Students issued a reality check
By BARBARA BEHRENDT
Published April 23, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - As Amrita Bedi stood before the class, chalking in the details of a simple math problem on the blackboard, two dozen students were beginning to grasp the stark financial reality.
Bedi and her teaching partner, Anesta Boice, were explaining a simple personal budget based on the full-time salary of a dishwasher.
After filling in the costs of a cheap apartment, utilities and a car payment, only about $125 a month remained. Add car insurance and gas, and soon the figure on the board was zero.
"Hey," one concerned student said, "you gotta eat."
Boice shook her head. There was no money for food. There was no money for clothes or new CDs or entertainment.
"Here's the point," she told the students. "As a high school dropout living on your own making $7 an hour, it is not enough to even meet necessities."
That was an important lesson for the room full of students, many of whom had earlier reported that their favorite classes were physical education and lunch.
"Do you see the point here, guys, that the more education you have, the more opportunities you're going to have?" Boice said.
The lights were coming on in the faces of Parrott Middle School teacher Johnny Roberts' two dozen eighth-grade history students.
"They're getting it," she said.
For Boice, a trust officer with Capital City Trust Co., and two dozen other local business people who took over eighth-grade classrooms at the school for a half-day Tuesday, seeing the students understand the lesson was payment for their services.
The volunteers are part of a new program called Diploma-See, a joint effort of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and Junior Achievement. Last week's program, largely sponsored by SunTrust Bank, was the debut for the project in the Hernando schools.
Next fall, organizers hope to have it up and running in other eighth-grade classrooms around the county.
The program is focused on keeping students in school to earn their diplomas and to plan for their further education.
"They have to be thinking about what their options are after high school," said Michelle Torigian, Junior Achievement's manager for Hernando and Pasco counties.
The economic side of equation is how the Diploma-See program gets the attention of the students, and the budgeting activity is key.
"The students have to ask, 'Am I going to be able to own my own house or rent my own apartment?' and it really makes them think about what they want," Torigian said. "Not on every salary can people have their sports cars."
During the class, students take an interest inventory to find out what kind of careers could be the right fit. They learn how much extra schooling they will need to achieve their career goals. They build charts showing how much more money people make the longer they stay in school.
The budgeting activity is the eye-opener, especially for any student thinking about dropping out.
"It's not as easy as they think it's going to be," Boice said. Telling students that their $7-an-hour job will earn them $280 a week makes some students feel wealthy. "They're used to getting $20 from their grandma for their birthday," she said.
But add up monthly expenses, and soon the money is gone.
"They've never had to deal with those issues before," she said. "This brings it down to brass tacks."
Many students haven't given serious thought to how much they will need to earn to have the luxuries they want for their adult lives, Torigian said.
"It really does open their eyes to other career opportunities," she said.
Boice, who is also co-chairwoman of the local Junior Achievement board, said the program engages students in hands-on activities, teaching them something whether they want to learn it or not.
At this age, students are already tuning out parents, and some are even "immune" to their teachers' good advice, she said.
"A child is going to listen more to someone who they do not know who is a volunteer giving their time," Boice said. "I feel like we're doing a good thing."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352 754-6117.
You can help
Anyone interested in volunteering to teach the Diploma-See curriculum or who can sponsor a classroom to receive the program may contact Michelle Torigian at 1-800-481-7599, ext. 34, or the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce at 796-0697. More information and volunteer applications can be found at the Web site for Junior Achievement at www.jahernando.org.