Taking their future for a spin

ConVal students get a dose of reality during business-sponsored ‘Reality Fair’

PETERBOROUGH — More than 200 ConVal High School students got a taste of reality Thursday, as they learned how much money they might expect to make at various jobs and how quickly that money could vanish once it comes time to pay rent, get a car, pay off student loans and buy groceries.

The students participated in a “Reality Fair” in the school gym, sponsored by the GFA Federal Credit Union and the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee. During two 90-minute sessions, students were each given a worksheet showing how much money they could expect to earn in a chosen career, how much might be withheld for taxes and other required deductions and how much take-home pay they would have. Then they visited booths where they had to make decisions on what to buy with their limited cash.

“If I want a car, what model should I get? If I need clothing for my job, how much should I spend? Those are the kinds of questions they needed to answer,” said Mary Lou O’Neil, the School to Work coordinator for the high school.

O’Neil said Kelli Mason of the GFA credit union had visited several consumer education classes at the high school prior to the fair, talking about career choices and giving students information on what various jobs tend to pay. Students in the consumer education classes have been learning about budgeting, O’Neil said, and the fair gave them an opportunity to put what they’d learned into practice.

Chamber of Commerce members volunteered to talk to the students about their products they sell and how much those items cost. O’Neil said the program gave the students a sense of what they’ll be faced with once they leave school.

“They looked at utility costs, cell phone options, cars, how much a pet would cost,” O’Neil said. “They had to make choices. By the end of the session, they could see how much or how little they’d have left over.”

O’Neil said one of the most striking costs for many students was the impact that taking out student loans would have on a monthly budget.

The GFA credit union has been running similar programs in Massachusetts for several years, O’Neil said, but this was a first for ConVal.

“It was really successful,” she said. “I think the students seemed really engaged. It was a fun way for them to learn about budget realities. It was also a great business and education partnership.”

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