Salem High School senior Daniele Alejandro hoped the financial Salem High School Reality Fair, a simulation of the financial challenges adults face, would show him how to be financially stable. After attending last Wednesday’s event, he came away with a better idea of how many obstacles he will face to achieve that goal.
“I was surprised at the cost of housing and how expensive it was. We had three people sharing an apartment and it was still difficult to pay for utilities,” he said.
Jaileny Pimentel, whose favorite subjects are calculus and statistics and who is interested in a career in business, looked forward to learning “tricks on how to save money.” Some students, like Victor Acosta, already pay all their personal bills, such as food and cell phone. Acosta recognizes he needs to learn to save on a regular basis and hoped the fair would teach him how to better manage money so he could afford to own a car.
Other students, like Xhoralgo Gjinaj, simply welcomed the opportunity to be out of the classroom on a beautiful May day. He anticipated the fair being “fun, interesting and something new.”
Since 2015, Salem Public Schools has run the SHS Reality Fair, providing graduating seniors with the opportunity to experience an up close and personal snapshot of what lies ahead of them as financially independent adults. The fair also supplies them with some of the tools they will need to tackle the many obstacles they will encounter along the way.
“We are very excited to be partnering with Salem State University (SSU), Salem Five Bank and Cabot Wealth Management. Everyone is committed to making sure our seniors leave high school understanding how to manage money,” said Andrew Wulf, Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning at Salem High School.
The Reality Fair planning team included Mikki Willson from Cabot Wealth Management; Ginny Leblanc, who teaches at Salem High School and handled most of the event coordination; and Adria Leach and Bryan Boppert from SSU. Bertolon School of Business at Salem State University hosted the event.
Each student received an individualized packet upon arrival with their name, occupation, and a summary of their hypothetical financial life at age 25, including net income after all taxes are deducted from their salary. Armed with that figure, they visited 16 booths to fill in the blanks on how to survive on that amount of money while also managing student loan debt and saving some money every month. Adult volunteers from the business, non-profit and public sectors staffed the booths, located in classrooms throughout the building.
At the end of the three-and-one-half hour fair, each student came away with a realistic monthly budget and the skills necessary to build one for themselves in the future.
Among the booths were: Career Counseling, Charity, Clothing, Credit/Lending, Credit Counseling, Education, Food, Luxury, Furniture, Housing, Insurance, Investment, Retirement, Savings and Transportation. In the Reality Check booth, a giant wheel similar to the “Wheel of Fortune” greeted visitors. Instead of winning vowels, however, a spin of this wheel yielded those little twists and turns life can unpredictably throw at you. Landing on green meant unexpected gains; red signified a loss.
For example, the green slots included a $100 birthday present from your parents or a part time job that yielded $250 a month. Red could mean an $875 expense to attend a wedding or $500 to replace a broken smartphone.
“It was really eye opening to see how the real world works,” said Alejandro, who hopes to earn an R.N. degree after graduation.
Bryan Boppert, Associate Director of the Student Navigation Center at SSU, greeted each student when they entered the lobby with a handshake and a smile. This was his first year of official involvement in the Reality Fair, but he was aware of it last year.
“Students took away the real world benefit of learning that budgeting is a skill learned through practice that requires discipline to maintain. Some students wanted fancy cars and vacations, but in the end they wound up broke,” he said, adding that the real benefit of the Reality Fair is that students can fail in a simulated way instead of trying it in the real world where they could lose their car or hurt their credit score.
His office, which counsels SSU students on borrowing responsibly, paying bills on time and managing the complex world of college, would love to replicate the Salem High School Reality Fair for their own students. “I would go so far as to say that the state should mandate financial literacy for all students because it has such a positive effect,” Boppert said.
Wulf has received positive feedback from the volunteers and students, who mentioned that the fair gave them a nice dose of reality regarding the complexities of managing their money. He believes that having volunteers from different companies and organizations was key to making the experience more authentic for the students.
“We have yet to hear from a student that the fair was not worthwhile,” he said with pride.