Volunteers needed for high school Reality Check

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An area high school senior writes a check for a service at the Reality Check financial literacy simulation. (Courier Press file photo)

By Correne Martin

High school seniors from nine area schools will soon take their turn participating in the financial literacy simulation Reality Check on Wednesday, April 20, at Prairie du Chien High School. Designed to give the students a first-hand look at the realities of life, the local Reality Check marks its 14th year in 2016.

There has been some changing of the guard though, and all of the contact information for volunteers from past years, as well as new people interested in helping, was not retained in entirety.

Volunteers who have not yet been contacted and wish to man a Reality Check booth for any length of time are asked to contact the new coordinator, Wally Byrne, at (608) 375-4161, ext. 2338, or wall@boscobel.k12.wi.us. In the past, over 125 volunteers have assisted in making the simulation a success.

While volunteers are a big part of the Reality Check’s 14-year run, donations and grants have contributed tremendously too. Funding ideas, tips and contact information are also needed to make the event a reality this year. Byrne said meals, supplies, mailings, calculators for the students and pens are typically sought from the public. Contact him if interested in providing any of these materials.

Byrne, a Wauzeka resident and special education teacher in the Boscobel School District, took over the coordinator’s position in early January. Karen Sjoberg, the former coordinator, took a new job as dean of students at Prairie du Chien High School and needed to pass on the duties of coordinator after nine dedicated years. Byrne was actually the original coordinator who, 13 years ago, organized the Reality Check for schools in southwest Wisconsin/northeast Iowa.

In 2016, around 350 seniors from Boscobel, Cassville, Clayton Ridge (Guttenberg), Central Community (Elkader), Decorah, Prairie du Chien, River Ridge, Seneca and Wauzeka-Steuben, will participate.

The students will engage with area businesses to gain insight and understanding of the pressures/decisions associated with living costs and monthly spending. Each senior participant is assigned a specific career, wage, lifestyle, family situation, etc., based on Crawford County and Wisconsin statistics. For example, the divorce rate in the county is 17 percent, so that number of seniors will conduct their business and duties as a “divorced person” for the day.

“They spend the day buying homes, cars, insurance, clothing and vacations; paying fines; dealing with health and dental care; repairing broken water pipes and more. Participating students will actually write checks and use debit and credit cards to pay area businesses (volunteers) for services,” Byrne explained. “The Reality Check gives students a taste of reality as they prepare for their future.”

Each school involved usually brings a few volunteers with them, be it board members, principals, school staff, civic organization members, or retired people “who just think the event is great.” Area business employees have also taken great interest in the Reality Check and given their time to the event. Volunteers are assigned booths based on their interest or expertise and they work anywhere from a couple hours, to a half day, to a full day. The event occurs from 7:45 a.m. (set up) until after the students leave at 2:30 p.m.

“We’re so appreciative of the businesses that allow some of their folks to spend their day with us,” Byrne stated, noting that 3M, Walmart, Piggly Wiggly, Prairie du Chien city utilities and Wisconsin Power and Light have consistently provided volunteers in the past.

“The unique thing is the kids make such a neat connection with the volunteers. Some of them are so serious,” Byrne added. “In high school, they can just be a kid, but when you get them out in front of potential employers and business professionals, the transformation you see is great.”

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