Reality has never been more fun than the brief look students get at their annual Reality Stores. On March 16th, the 8th-grade class gathered in the Chesterton High School gymnasium to learn about paychecks, bills, and budgeting.
The Reality Store began in the 1990s when a young mother went to the Girl’s Club in California for help paying her bills. Her financial struggle had put her in tears. She could not understand why no one told her what being on her own would really be like. The Girl’s Club, in collaboration with the Indiana Women’s Education Foundation Inc, created the Reality Store to prepare young girls, and later all children, for adulthood.
What started as a project is now a part of the Chesterton Middle School curriculum. Every year the gymnasium is filled with booths from different businesses around the town. Students are given a career based on their current GPA and then receive a relevant salary. They use their imaginary money to pay for insurance, child care, food, and various day to day bills that they used to take for granted. The goal is to have money left over at the end of the “month” to spend on trips or luxury items but not all students are that fortunate.
“The purpose is to give kids an experience that connects classroom, career, and family expectations into a day that mimics the reality of “Real Life” scenarios. This helps to teach them about responsibility and how their actions in school now will affect their future," said Kristina Kaliboski, Office Coordinator of the Duneland Chamber and one of the organizers of the Reality Store.
Guidance Counselor Laura Herrod said, “What we hope they take away from this is the value of education. We hope they see that more education equals more opportunities and greater earnings. We do this before high school so they can see what careers are out there and what they think they would like to do, so they can plan their four years of high school accordingly.”
Over 120 businesses participate in the Reality Store. Volunteers help guide students through their simulations. Bob Capehart, a retiree who worked at ArcelorMittal for 41 ½ years helped to run the income tax booth.
“Everyone has to pay taxes,” said Capehart. “They need to understand that a certain amount goes to that. It gives them a real-life picture of what they have to pay for- taxes, student loans. It’s a real life experience and kids respond to that.”
Kayla Kirchner, a student and pretend physician, learned a lot from her time in the Store: “How much everything costs, and that you have to take into account more than your house.”
The project is coordinated by Counselor Herrod and the Duneland Chamber of Commerce’s Partners in Education Committee. The committee is comprised of community: it includes partners from the Duneland School Corporation, Chamber staff, and volunteers from all around the region.
Kaliboski said, “The Reality Store continues to be a successful event because of our awesome volunteers!”