By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Region – When the fourth annual Reality Check was held Jan. 23 at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School (AVRTHS) in Marlborough, more sophomores learned how to balance a monthly budget. In previous years, the event was offered as a perk for sophomores in the State Scholar Program. This year's inclusion of all sophomores was welcomed by Cindy Zomar, AVRTHS admissions and public relations coordinator.
“We decided that all sophomores need financial literacy,” she said. “This year we have 270 sophomores doing this, which is about double than before.”
Formatted as an interactive game, the Reality Check is organized by AVRTHS, the Marlborough Rotary Club, and the Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce (MRCC). Peggie Thorsen, the event chair, feels the financial lesson is targeting the ideal students.
“The best class to do this with is the sophomores because most of them are turning 16,” she noted. “They'se eligible to get a job and a learner's permit for their driver's license at that age, so they'se getting both income and expenses.”
Prior to the event, the sophomores were assigned to choose a career from a government website, determine a month's salary, and calculate the percentages of deductions required.
Their first stop at the Reality Check fair was the paymaster, where they received a one-month salary in play money. Next, they visited tables where volunteers guided them with the costs of transportation, insurance, housing, utilities, and daily needs. Suggestions were also offered regarding loans, credit cards, and checking and savings accounts.
Each student took two mandatory spins on the Wheel of Fortune. The results ranged from a comfortable cash flow to possible bankruptcy. A Rotarian either paid or collected “cash.”
For Hannah Packard, each of her two spins landed on “Dental bill; pay $1,000.” It was a valuable lesson for her.
“I learned to brush my teeth,” she said.
Christina Negron was more fortunate. She hit the jackpot with “Lottery win; pay $1,000.”
“I'sl spend it wisely,” she said, adding, “I'sl probably get a car.”
Thorsen expressed her gratitude for the School to Business Committee of the MRCC, who promoted the recruitment of business representatives as event volunteers. The committee's chair is Darren McLaughlin, who participated as the general manager of Wayside Racquet & Swim Club.
“This is a financially frugal group,” he said of the sophomores. “Nobody is spending money on a health club membership. A lot of them said they put money into a savings account.”
Also speaking with students about budget balancing was Marie DiMauro, payroll administrator at Hannaford Supermarket.
“One kid told me he got a great apartment and car,” she relayed. “So he said that he can only afford ramen noodles for the month.”
Students were required to invest five percent of their net income toward retirement and get it marked on a ledger. Volunteering to handle that task was Denise Zacchilli, who observed the students and offered them advice.
“They need to put money away for retirement,” she said. “We'se telling our kids to do the same. They don's get 100 percent of their paycheck; a lot of it goes to the bank. My son is at college now and he was able to go to Italy on his own dime.”
Credit councilors checked students” ledgers to ensure they completed the Reality Check. Among the volunteers acting as a credit counselor was Peggy Sheldon, Rotary Club secretary.
“These students are having conversations that I doubt they would have had if it weren's for this event,” she said. “It's good being able to have them think how they's spend their money before they have it.”