By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Hudson – Hudson High School (HHS) sophomores now have a better idea how to manage a monthly budget after attending the annual Reality Fair held April 15. The fair taught them a financial lesson designed as an interactive game, noted Scott Darlington, HHS teacher and Career Pathways program specialist.
“It’s great to give the students an opportunity to interact,” he noted. “They’re not just sitting there listening to someone lecture. They’re able to actually learn from an assimilated experience. The businesses that come here get better each year at making dry financial realities interesting and compelling to sophomore students.”
Prior to the fair, guidance counselors prepared the students with Naviance software to help determine their career interests. They also learned about potential jobs and salaries. Upon entering the fair, they were given “play money” equivalent to their job’s monthly salary. Their mission was to successfully plan a budget.
Along the way, students were required to spin a Wheel of Fortune. Then they took action according to their spin’s result, which ranged from “Speeding Ticket – Pay $150” to “$300 Tax Refund from the IRS.”
“There are some good and bad things on the wheel,” Darlington explained. “The students are attuned to the expectations of school, but life is much more variable. You have a lot more freedom, but you also have a lot less control in some situations.”
With “cash” in hand, the students visited representatives from about 20 businesses. Some gave priority to businesses such as Verizon selling the latest phones and Colonial Chrysler Jeep Dodge of Hudson with hopes of purchasing a new vehicle. Others learned a valuable lesson in saving on utility bills.
“Hudson Light and Power always does a great explanation on how different appliances and electricity usage rates affect your electric bill,” Darlington relayed. “They definitely created interest at their table.”
The fair began with Jim McGowan of Baystate Financial speaking about compounding interest. Students could get additional financial advice from representatives of Avidia Bank, DCU, Marlborough Savings Bank and St. Mary’s Credit Union, each a sponsor of the fair. They also got networking tips from Hudson Rotary Club members.
Darlington appreciated another perspective on reality offered by representatives of the Hudson Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.
“Six students that I taught overdosed in the last two years,” he shared. “As kids get older they have the freedom to do whatever they want to do. They need to know that those actions have consequences.”
He believes that sophomore year is a good time for students to attend the Reality Fair.
“It’s far enough away from graduation where they don’t have to make super important decisions, but they’re starting to think about their future,” he said. “They might be getting close to starting a driver’s education course and thinking about college. They’re just on the cusp of making some really life influencing decisions.”
HHS received a grant from the Massachusetts State Treasurer’s Office and the Division of Banks for the fair. The grant helped purchase reusable signage and supplies. Assisting with this and other Career Pathways events was parent volunteer Diane Lacerte.
Lessons learned by these sophomores at this year’s Reality Fair are likely to continue when they become juniors, Darlington noted.
“We’re looking to add a Reality Fair 2.0 next year for our juniors,” he said. “We’ll focus it more on mock interview skills, dressing for a work environment, calling someone on the phone to arrange an interview, how to create a resume and cover letter, and how to interact verbally in an interview. We want to offer events that educate our students about things that they may not be learning in their classes.”