By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Seniors at Marlborough High School (MHS) now have a better idea how to manage a monthly budget after attending the 10th annual Reality Fair held recently. ?Organized by the Marlborough Rotary Club, with assistance from the MHS chapter of Business Professionals of America and the Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce, the fair taught a financial lesson designed as an interactive game.
Peggie Thorsen, the event chair since its inception, believes the format is beneficial.
“This format is a challenge for them,” she said. “They have to perform all these tasks and come out a winner. When they'se engaged, they'se going to learn something.”
Students selected a career with a predetermined salary from a list of over 50 options. The first stop was the paymaster, where students received play money as a one-month salary. Thorsen noted the value of the fair's “cash.”
“We considered giving them debit cards, but didn's because we felt the “cash” represented something tangible that they were giving up,” she explained.
With “cash” in hand, students visited representatives from about 30 businesses and organizations who guided them with costs such as transportation, insurance, housing and utilities. Banking advice was also offered.
David Walton, the Rotary Club's president, participated in the fair for his eighth year.
“It's a rude awakening for some of the kids,” he said, “especially with the Wheel of Fortune – or “Misfortune.””
Students were required to spin the wheel and take action according to the result, which ranged from “Tax Refund” to “Speeding Ticket.”
For Ryan King, his unlucky spin landed on “Auto Repair: $700.” His chosen profession was film editor because he actually wants to pursue broadcasting.
“This will definitely affect me because now I don's have transportation,” he said. “And $700 is almost half my paycheck. It's gone. That's real life, I guess.”
Another student getting a real-life lesson was Tabitha Horton, whose spin landed on “Unplanned Pregnancy: $1,500.” She had only $200 “cash.”
“I don's plan on having kids,” she shared. “Now I need to take out a loan for $1,300.”
She visited Chantal Zeh, human resource representative at St. Mary's Credit Union.
“They come straight to us for their loans,” Zeh said. “We'se the closest booth to the wheel.”
The more fortunate wheel spinners were eager to discuss membership with Darren McLaughlin, general manager of the Wayside Racquet and Swim Club.
“Some students are saying they'se on loans already and they don's think they should buy a health club membership with loans, and I tend to agree,” he said. “I encourage them to cover all the necessities first and if there's a little money left over, then we can talk about membership.”
One of those high-cost necessities was housing expenses, noted business teacher Jayne Haley.
“They'se learning that they shouldn's move out from their parents” house until they have enough money,” she said. “They'se realizing all the different expenses there are with living independently.”
Some students, including John Grenier and Dallas Joyce, dealt with the substantial expense of housing by pooling their resources. At the Wheel of Fortune, each landed on “Lottery Win: $1,000.” They invested their winnings and became roommates.
“We opened up a savings account and retirement fund,” Grenier said. “And we decided to get a two-bedroom apartment to better cover the expenses.”
Students recorded their “cash” transactions. Their ledgers and evaluation sheets were reviewed by volunteers including Chris Randall, a media specialist at MHS.
“Some of them have a handful of cash left over and others don's have any,” she said. “Most of them do say they'se learned a lot. They'se realizing how much everything costs.”