Callaway Middle School students get dose of reality at Reality U

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 1, 2018

On Tuesday, eighth graders at Callaway Middle School had the chance to experiment with what their finances may look like when they turn 26 during a program called Reality U.

The event was organized by Communities In Schools of Georgia and was sponsored by PNC Bank and the Callaway Foundation. Volunteers from Calumet Bank, PNC, Synovus, WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, LaGrange College, Twin Cedars, Blessed Realty, the Department of Public Health, Shine/Head Start, Mike Patton Auto, AT&T, Community In Schools of Georgia and Statewide Mortgage took part in the event, helping students create budgets for monthly expenses that they will face as adults.

The program used information like grade point averages, whether students turn in homework on time and if students want to get married, have kids or adopt a pet after graduation to determine income and expenses.

“They are all eighth graders. We did two sessions with 75 students in each,” said Tabitha Coverson, the executive director of Communities In Schools of Georgia in Troup County. “They take an assessment prior to coming here. Based on what their GPA is, there are certain jobs they can select. If they have a lower GPA, there are certain jobs that aren’t available to them. Then they decide how many kids they want, if they want to be married.”

The goal of the event was to help students realize the affect that their decisions will have on their lives.

“We hope that they will get the ‘light bulb moment’ where they realize the impact of the financial decisions that they have to make,” said Yvette Humphries, a community consultant for PNC. “They realize the importance of saving and budgeting and get a real-world view of what their parents are doing right now to manage the monthly income every day.”

For some students, it was the first time they really stopped to consider the cost of things like housing.

“They come to this station, and they realize how much houses cost depending upon their credit score,” said Brandon Brooks, a mortgage loan originator at Statewide Mortgage. “Some of them have pets, kids, so it changes the dynamic of their finances. When they come here it is a real wake up call, hence Reality U. Some of them have to adjust. Maybe they got an expensive car, well they can’t have that expensive car and have a house, so this is one of the first stops, but they come here and it sets the foundation for all of the other stuff — for their cellphone, supermarket, extras, shopping.”

Students at Reality U chose cars, homes and phones for the simulation with pricing based off their “credit score,” which was determined by how often they turned in homework on time.

“If your credit is good, you pay $482 for a car [a month], but if you have poor credit, then that car note goes up to $563 a month, and one kid said, ‘I want to make sure I have good credit,’” Humphries said. “To see the ‘light bulb moment’ go off for them is what we hope they will take from this.”

Volunteers joked that the car and phone booths were the most popular at the beginning of each of the two sessions, but they also noted that learning what to prioritize was an important part of the experience.

“It gives these young adults real-world choices about how to spend money,” said Mike Speight, Calumet Bank’s LaGrange president. “It is eye-opening for the students because they get to see why maybe [their] mother and daddy said no to a pair of [expensive shoes] and yes to a pair of $20 shoes.”

Beyond budgeting in the future, Reality U also highlighted for students the importance of decisions they are already making at school.

“It is a good exercise in the real world of work and life, a dose of reality,” said Leslie Myles, Communities In Schools of Georgia manager of student support services and Reality U coordinator. “They realize that if they do not have a good income, the money does not take them far, and so making the right choices in school is going to impact and effect what their earning potential is when they graduate, and then I love the ones that are married with kids because they have no idea how expensive child care is, and they didn’t factor that in. Now they are factoring that in, and realizing children are very expensive.”

Even though the “income” for Reality U was based on students’ eighth grade GPAs, organizers also highlighted the fact that students still have plenty of time to make changes to achieve the lives they want after high school.

“We don’t want any of the kids who have lower GPAs to feel beat up on,” Coverson said. “It is more to tell them, ‘You are an eighth grader now, so you have time to make some changes in the way you are approaching school work.’ Hopefully, these same 150 students — when they get in the 10th grade — we’ll do this again with them, the same grade, and see the difference between their choices as eighth graders and then as sophomores in high school.”

To learn more about Community Schools of Georgia in Troup County or how you can get involved, visit