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Students get dose of reality

Desirae Loukes has $1,255 per month to eat, live, get to work and have a little fun. Luckily she doesn't have any kids, so she can put some money in the bank, too, she said. Loukes, an eighth grader at Superior Middle School, learned some life le...

Desirae Loukes has $1,255 per month to eat, live, get to work and have a little fun.

Luckily she doesn't have any kids, so she can put some money in the bank, too, she said.

Loukes, an eighth grader at Superior Middle School, learned some life lessons about finances Tuesday.

Eighth graders across northern Wisconsin got a dose of reality this week at the Wessman Arena Reality Store.

Not long after Loukes praises her childless existence, a boy streams past complaining about having to find child care.

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"It's pretty cool," Loukes said. "It's a way to see how life really is like. You're really living life. And you kind of get to experience life on your own."

The Reality Store is a nationwide personal financial planning event for middle school students. The event teaches students to learn how to budget for life, the importance of staying in school and planning for retirement.

Students from SMS, Northwestern, Cathedral, Siren, South Shore and Washburn participated in the event Monday and Tuesday.

About 650 students got a dose of reality, said Mark Isabella, School to Work program advisor at Northwestern High School.

"You use a lot of critical thinking," Isabella said. "The kind of stuff you do in everyday life."

About 100 business men and women from Superior, Duluth, Maple and Iron River volunteered for the event setting up booths where students could "purchase" housing, transportation, groceries, cell phones, pets and more.

Each student receives a salary and job in a drawing at school the week before they visit the Reality Store.

Students must then purchase everything they need and want while staying within their monthly limits.

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Some students are married, some have children. Students must then factor spouses and children into their monthly budget.

It's a great exercise for the kids, said Cindy Hendrickson, of CenturyTel.

"A lot of these kids have no clue how to manage their money. They're used to mom and dad handing it to them," Hendrickson said.

What they learn at the Reality Store will help them when they start taking jobs and earning their own money in high school, she said.

Cassie O'Neill's job as a librarian pays her $26,000 a year and $2,200 to spend each month.

"It's actually really interesting," she said. "It's preparing kids for their lives when they're older."

But the day teaches a hard lesson -- "things ain't cheap," O'Neill said.

"For people who have lower than me, I would feel bad because they don't have much money," she said.

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The students also had the option to leave part of their financing up to chance at the ducky pond.

Students scoop up a colorful duck or turtle to find out what chance has in store for them.

For Austin Lindstrom chance left him an adopted dog that needs deworming. James Ferderer was luckier, chance left him $1,000 from a deceased family member.

Other students found financial hazards in running, standing around and hitting, which costed them fines in speeding, loitering and disorderly conduct respectively.

Some even received a trip to jail, said junior Johanna Conrad, Students Against Destructive Decisions volunteer from Northwestern High School.

"I feel that what we're doing, we're encouraging students not to make destructive decisions and wind up in jail when they're older," Conrad said. "Although some of these middle schoolers think this jail is fun."

The fines served as a double warning to future NHS students, where kids get in trouble for loitering in the hallway, she said.

Reality Store is an annual event. The store started about 12 years ago at Central High School in Superior, as the event grew it moved to Wessman.

To participate, students have to learn about taxes and yearly gross. This event encompasses both social studies and math. Each school tailors the event to its curriculum, Isabella said.

The biggest outcome of the event is for the kids to learn how important it is to make ends meet and what it's going to cost to live, said Sue Dammer, SMS family and consumer education teacher.

To give the students an accurate picture of the working world, Dammer and Isabella keep the wages and booths up to date.

Next year there might be a booth about child support because that's a big part of people's lives right now, Dammer said.

"It's a lot of fun. You get to learn what the real world is like," said Alex Dunning, whose favorite booth was Wal-mart. "You learn how to open bank accounts and buy all the stuff you need ... I've learned how to handle my money."

Anna Kurth covers education. Call her at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail akurth@superiortelegram.com .

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