Every seventh grader in Jefferson County's middle schools were able to participate in the "Get a Life" program which teaches the benefit of higher education by allowing students to see what real life can cost them. literally.
The program was developed four years ago by Fairmont State University GEAR UP and is presented via the West Virginia State Treasurer's Office. This year, the program's funding was not established by the state; however, Get A Life was fortunate enough to secure grant funding from State Farm Insurance to continue the program.
Patricia Ramsburg, coordinator of the program, once again found her way to Jefferson County this year as the program was presented Wednesday to Wildwood and Shepherdstown middle school students..
"The program is engaging for students," Ramsburg said. "They have a good time while they learn."
The program focus is to stress to students at a younger age the importance of continuing their education. At the start of each two-hour session, students are each provided with a description of their life for the day. Cards distributed indicate whether the individuals are married, single, divorced with child support to pay or receiving child support. The card also outlines how many children each individual has and what their job is as well as their monthly salary.
In the first round of the session, the students are all individuals in their late 20s who have received no education beyond high school. Their jobs and salaries indicate as much. The salary per month is provided and then the fun begins.
Each student must purchase a house large enough to accommodate their family and a car to travel back and forth to work. Often, these two items are the first purchased by the students and often, little thought is given to budgeting. A large home or a fast car is important until the student realizes he or she must also travel around the room to the other shops or businesses where monthly bills quickly add up.
In addition to the home with an appropriate number of bedrooms, each individual must visit the mall and purchase bedroom furniture for those rooms. Other furnishings for the home are optional except a required stove and refrigerator. The mall provides a place for lots of fun items such as large screen TVs and video game systems to sneak in and diminish one's savings.
Each individual must also shop for insurance (auto is required in the state of West Virginia), gasoline for travel in their vehicles, groceries to feed the family, utilities to keep the lights on and the water running as well as a visit to the doctor. That doctor visit can be quite a surprise, especially if the student has not budgeted in for health insurance.
Each student is given a ledger sheet to keep track of their monthly spending. It did not take long for many of the students to spend all of their monthly income and fall into a negative balance. Regardless of that balance, each student had to visit at least eight of the 10 stores or stations before moving on to the "Go Center" where additional education could be sought and a new life given. Students then went through the exercise again with a new career which paid substantially higher wages.