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Mountain View Students Get Slice of Reality

As a registered nurse, Kristina Cummings will earn some $4,629/month, and her payroll-clerk spouse will bring home $2,771/month. But all that's before taxes — and then they'll have to pay their mortgage, health insurance, child care, food and myriad other expenses.

But for now, it's only a dry run. A junior at Mountain View School, Cummings and other students there participated March 29 in their school's annual Reality Store event. Teens envisioned the adult lives they wanted, and community business representatives provided them with realistic information about the costs of supporting themselves and their families.

FOR THREE HOURS, students went from table to table in the gym, speaking with experts who advised them on salaries for particular careers and how much they'll have to shell out for food, entertainment, housing, car care, insurance, child care, vacations, etc.

"It's a good idea because it gives you an outlook of what things might be like," said Cummings. "I thought I'd have more money."

Likewise, sophomore Edvin Salguero learned some valuable lessons. He figured he'd work for the government and have two or three children. He and his wife would have an estimated $8,428 monthly income; but then, like all the students, he had to draw a "chance" card.

"It says my car needs a new transmission for $1,000," said Salguero. He said the Reality Store was worthwhile because "I never imagined I had to buy a house and car — and how much money I'd really have to spend on all these things."

Classmate James Freeze planned a career as a police officer, making $4,218/month. His physician's-assistant wife made $5,705/month. They had no children, but paid $1,500/month for a condo, $323 for food and $95 for clothing.

"I've already had to do this before," he said, relating a period when he left home and was on his own. "I found out you need a diploma to get a better job. And hopefully, this will teach me something in the end."

Junior Beckie Lester anticipated making $9,465/month as a psychiatrist and paying $1,300/month for an apartment. "Budgeting matters," she said. "You need to have a plan. My parents take care of my car insurance now, so I think I'll be surprised at the cost."

Danielle Garvin, with the school system's Human Resources Department, explained various medical and dental health plans to the students, what was covered and how much the premiums cost.

"I LOVE [the Reality Store]," she said. "It's good interacting with the kids. They were interested in knowing which plans covered 100 percent, which covered 90 percent and their prescription costs. With two plans, they could see doctors anywhere in the country; with the others, they had a primary doctor so their choices were limited."

Susan Shields, a junior, planned to make $3,442/month designing jewelry while her educational-psychologist husband earned $4,678/month. Their housing cost just $800/month because it was in Southeast Washington, D.C., but child care was $900/month for one child.

Shields anticipated spending $428/month on food and $400 on entertainment, while making $480/month auto payments. "It's good for kids to be aware of how much it actually costs to support yourself and be independent," she said. "It opens up opportunities for high-school kids to grow."

Mountain View teacher Debbie Miller agreed. "This is great — especially with these students being older," she explained. "Some are on their own, or close to being on their own, so it helps them see it's not as easy as they think."

Otherwise, she said, "They're told they're making so much [money for their chosen jobs], and they think they can just play with it. For example, one student was an artist, and he found out he wasn't making that much money. So then he decided he needed to get another job and do his artwork on the side."

Senior Danny Moronta wanted to be an administrative manager making $4,622/month and driving a Mercedes E320. Helping maintain his lifestyle was his wife, bringing home $3,000/month as a nurse. They also had one child and paid $293/month for health insurance, $483 for food and $318 for clothing — in addition to a $435/month car payment.

So what did the Reality Store teach him? "I learned you've got to graduate and go to college if you want to make lots of money," he said. "I also learned about budgeting and saving money so you can look forward to the future and plan out your life."

AS A CHILD-CARE worker, senior Ceann Maney earned $1,630/month while her husband made $3,500 monthly as an electrician. Their house payment was $1,250/month, and their child-care bill for two children was $957 a month.

They also anticipated $542/month for food, $205 for health insurance and just $88 for entertainment. "We have a PlayStation 2," explained Maney. "We'd just buy new games." Pleased to participate in the event, she said, "I don't think a lot of schools do this, and it gives you a basic idea of how things are going to be."

Denise Dixon-Basil, training director for Community Bank in Centreville, was happy "encouraging students that, no matter what their income, it's important to always save. If you don't make lots of money, your resources are limited; and if you do, you want to be able to maintain a certain lifestyle and standard of living."

Her slogan was "Got dreams?" She asked the students if they wanted to work all their lives, live from paycheck to paycheck and have to ask their parents for money. "Of course, nobody said yes, so those were perfect reasons to save money," she said.

Dixon-Basil explained direct deposit and budgeting and recommended they try to save at least 5 percent of their monthly net income. If they couldn't, "At least save something — even if it's only $5/month," she told them. "You'll always need a savings account."