The Pursuit of Personal Prosperity

The following post is a reflection from Lindsay Ridinger, Manager of Wow! Communications and Marketing at Summit Education Initiative, who volunteered on behalf of Torchbearers at Buchtel Community Learning Center’s Reality Check event on April 14, 2016.

When your book bag is one of your heaviest burdens, it’s not necessarily a walk in the playground to understand the financial responsibilities of adults.

Akron Public SchoolsBut Akron Public Schools provides an opportunity for high school sophomores to approach that matter – before their school days end upon graduation. It’s fittingly called Reality Check, and it’s a program Akron Public Schools has executed in several schools for 11 years.

“Our main goal for Reality Check is for students involved to see how their GPA and attendance records affect their lives after high school graduation,” says Melissa Markley, instructional specialist for College and Career Services at Akron Public Schools. “We want them to see the connection between what they’re doing now and how that can affect their ability to get a job.”

At Summit Education Initiative, we believe education provides a clear path to future success, career opportunities and promotions, and vibrant, resilient communities.

But when you’re 15 or 16 years old, understanding how your decisions and ability to pay attention in the classroom may affect your future is overwhelming, to say the least. Just thinking ahead past your next basketball game, movie night with friends or even your next lunch period could make you feel as uneasy as when finding a first job or applying for college.

Reality Check helps prepare sophomores achieve that forward-thinking mindset by assigning them a role nearly 10 years in the future. Each student assumes the financial responsibilities of a 25-year-old with a spouse and one child, and with a career that best matches their interests, school attendance record and GPA.

The corresponding monthly salary students receive must cover “real life” expenses, such as rent or a mortgage, taxes, groceries, child care and more. But it’s each student’s responsibility to determine how to best spend the balance they’re provided.

Volunteering at Reality Check

high school classroom

The purpose of Reality Check is to reinforce the messages sophomore students learn in the classroom, as well as the importance of higher GPAs and attendance records. These factors affect their lives after high school graduation. (Photo courtesy of Akron Public Schools, 2016)

During Buchtel CLC’s Reality Check program I represented “furniture and home repair” with a fellow Torchbearer. As I sat watching participating students wander around the gymnasium, trying to determine the most important of life’s necessities on which to spend first, I noticed their attitudes shift slightly. Some watched their monthly balances drop to nearly nothing before realizing health insurance and utilities, for example, had not yet been deducted. Others who visited our table had a tough time deciding whether it was worth splurging on nicer furniture and flat screen TVs or settling for a futon bed for the sake of saving some money.

I heard comments like, “Oh, I’ll just sit on the floor!” and “I guess I don’t need a dishwasher.”

Overall, many students know it’s important to show up to school and learn how to provide for themselves post-graduation, whether they get a job, go to college or join the military. But what those students may not realize is the “why.” Why is time in the classroom so important? Why must I earn good grades? Why should I care about being an adult now?

“Our goal is to continue this conversation in classrooms after Reality Check ends,” Markley says. “We enjoy bringing in external volunteers to help with this event because they can provide additional input to reinforce the messages students hear from their teachers on a daily basis.”

I applaud Akron Public Schools for building its Reality Check program over several years to help positively impact the lives of students living in Summit County. Together, we can emphasize the importance of educational attainment and ultimately encourage students to achieve more, earn higher wages and experience happier lives—all of which contributes to a better community.

Read the Akron Beacon Journal story about the April 14 Reality Check program at Buchtel CLC here.