Getting Real

Getting Real

Briar Woods and Freedom seniors get a taste of the real world.

The Briar Woods High School gym was filled with unfamiliar sounds Thursday, as students called out to each other.

"Will you marry me?" one student yelled to a friend.

"Do you want to live together?" another asked.

"How many children do you have?" asked a third.

Walking between tables marked furniture, bank, child care and utilities, seniors from Briar Woods and Freedom high schools received a reality check, March 15. The students took part in the Reality Store, sponsored by the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which taught the students about the reality of being an independent adult.

THE SENIORS were transformed from 17- and 18-year-old students to independent 25-year-olds, with a variety of jobs, families and income. Some were single with high-paying jobs; others were raising two children on a minimum-wage job.

"We want to get them thinking, being proactive, so that they will be self-sufficient when the time comes," Debra Foster, program assistant for Family and Consumer Sciences, said. "They have to know what it means to be the head of the household."

During the Reality Store, each student was required to work out a monthly budget because, Foster said, it is easier to budget month by month.

Their first stop was the Uncle Sam booth, where they had to pay "taxes" on their income or receive federal benefits if they were eligible. After paying their taxes, students moved from table to table, setting up bank accounts, securing housing, paying for child care, buying groceries, purchasing a car, applying for credit cards, even figuring out how to budget in personal care, such as gym memberships and charitable contributions.

"We have to make sure all the information is current," Foster said, "so they're getting a realistic picture of life."

Volunteers that manned each booth said they saw every range of students, from those that hoped to still eat at their parents' house and those that arrived at the personal-care table before they had arranged for child care. Others said they were excited to show the students how much they could do with their money.

"We try to point out that there are a lot of things they can do with not a lot of money," Nancy Barnhart, who volunteered at the charitable contributions table, said. "We try to encourage that they make a minimum contribution."

FOSTER SAID students are encouraged to be as creative as possible when figuring out their budgets, leading to impromptu "marriages" and finding roommates. The only restrictions, Foster said, are the solution has to be legal and it has to be realistic.

"You can't get together with eight people and say we'll all live in this one-bedroom condo," she said.

Briar Woods Principal Edward Starzenski said he did the Reality Store while he was principal of Loudoun County High School and that he was amazed at the difference it made in the way his students looked at life.

"They're all going to be out there working soon," he said. "I am not sure they really understand what they're in for."

Starzenski said he was excited to bring the store to Briar Woods, in order to give seniors a take on what they would face in only a few short months.

"It really opens their eyes," he said.