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Teens Get A Dose Of Reality At Wasuma Elementary

AHWAHNEE — How many thirteen-year-olds know how much renters’ insurance costs, or the price of an average car loan payment? Well, thirty-three of them do now, thanks to an event at Wasuma Elementary school recently that aimed to teach eighth graders about the cost of living.

Entitled ‘Life 101,’ the program was developed by volunteers Sarah Persson and Barbara Irion after they were inspired by an article they read on Facebook about a high school in Oklahoma that ran a similar program for high school seniors.

“The high school version was pretty in-depth, so we restructured ours for a younger audience,” says Sarah Persson.

Persson produced the paperwork and recruited professionals from local businesses, like Bryan Smith from Sierra Tel, Christina Suderman and Marlena Ledgerwood from Central Valley Community Bank, realtor Honni Baggs from Coldwell Banker and Liz Winterton from Foster and Parker Insurance — all gave their time to help explain everyday expenses to the students.

Irion organized parent volunteers to help with the event and worked with Wasuma ASB to do the signage and set up.

The students were randomly assigned a career and corresponding salary, broken down to a monthly net income. Jobs and salaries were realistic, as were the monthly expenses they had to pay.

They then had to progress through eight stations: housing, transportation, insurance, utilities, miscellaneous (which included groceries, cell phone, wifi, clothing, gas, etc.) and a financial station where they were taught about saving and how to make a credit card payment. This included a brief lesson on credit and interest charges.

There was a Chance table, where students received either a lucky break like fifty dollars from Grandma, or bad luck like a speeding ticket. The last table provided help and advice for anyone struggling to live within their means.

So, how did it go?

“Some students were assigned a higher paying career and so their experience was a little easier, even with student loan payments added in,” Irion notes. “Some kids who had a lower income really struggled to make ends meet. It was fun to watch them realize how expensive things are and try to adjust to reality. Most students couldn’t afford a lot of the things they wanted.”

And what did the kids think?

“It was interesting and made me think about how I’m going to pay my bills,” comments eighth grader Haylee Beach. “I know things I didn’t know before, like I didn’t think about gas and all the things you have to pay for.”

Jane Irion, another student, found the exercise very eye opening.

“I didn’t realize you have to pay so much in taxes,” says student Jane Irion. “At first I was excited because my job was pretty good and then I realized I didn’t actually have that much money. I couldn’t even afford WiFi.”

Wasuma principal Heather Archer was excited to host the program for her graduating class before they advance to high school.

“This is information that these kids know nothing about,” she explains. “I think it will open their eyes to what they can realistically expect when they enter the workforce. Maybe it will help them understand their parents’ struggles a little better. In fact, I heard one student say now they knew why their mom is stressed all the time! It was fun to watch the kids get creative with how to meet their needs. Some realized they needed a roommate to cut down on expenses. Luckily, they still have a few years before they’ll need to put what they learned into action!”

Wasuma Elementary School is part of the Bass Lake Unified School District

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