Teenage Reality Fair gives NHS juniors feel for work, money matters

  • Jailen Rodriguez and Ben Etlinger hug in relief after spinning the Reality Check Wheel at the Teen Reality Fair at Northampton High School Wednesday morning. The Reality Check Wheel had various options such as receive an $800.00 bonus, which Rodriguez landed on, or new clothes, pay $150. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • left, Alishba Tasneen,17, and Lexi Fappiano,16, react as Fappiano's spinning of the Reality Check Wheel at the Teen Reality Fair at Northampton High School Wednesday morning landed on her owing 60.00. The Reality Check Wheel had various options such as receive a 800.00 dollar bonus, or new clothes pay 150.00. In the front is Zoe Parigian,17,. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Marlene Marrocco, a volunteer at the Teen Reality Fair at Northampton High School, tempts left, Promise Ofori Okyere,17, and Margot Schocket-Greene,16 to spend on fun activities like Para sailing and Patriots tickets. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mariesa Negosanti, from admissions at Elms College, talks with Ella Strzegowski, 16, Jasmine Chea, 17, and Kolbie Jones, 17, about how much student loans and training will average them a month during a Teen Reality Fair at Northampton High School Wednesday morning. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mariesa Negosanti, from admissions at Elms College, talks with Ella Strzegowski,16, about how much student loans and training will average them a month during a Teen Reality Fair at Northampton High School Wednesday morning. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Daniela Toohey,18, fills out her budget during the Teen Reality Fair at Northampton High School Wednesday morning. . —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 4/25/2018 11:45:16 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The rapper and contemporary poet Eminem may have once observed that “Life is no Nintendo game.” Yet Northampton High School juniors got to play a demo of just what their post-school life might be like at the school’s first Teenage Reality Fair on Wednesday.

Participants were tasked with managing the financial life of a 25-year-old who is no longer in school. They were all randomly assigned credit scores, and then were allowed to pick from dozens of careers. Once they were given a career, however, they could not return it. Each career had an annual income, as well as monthly income minus taxes. Some careers also came with a student loan payment.

Students then had to visit different booths around the gym, including Food & Nutrition, Clothing, Housing and Transportation. There was also a Charitable Giving booth, and another, called Fun, Fun, Fun, where they had to purchase a cellphone plan, but were also tempted to purchase other items, such as New England Patriots tickets and Disney World vacations.

For those curious, the news reporter job came with a $41,410 annual salary and $2,193 monthly take-home pay, along with a monthly student loan payment of $248.

Gabe Nicotera, 17, and his friend Chris Raphael-Reily, 17, decided to be radiologists and chose to live together at Nicotera’s mom’s house, while also working as CVS clerks. 

Nicotera said he found the fair’s representation of the elements of life pretty comprehensive, including the temptations of Fun Fun Fun.

“You’re gonna spend money on tickets somewhere along in life,” he said.

Nicotera said he learned that housing was a lot more expensive than he thought it was, and Raphael-Reily said that radiology might actually be a job they’d both be interested in.

“I hope they keep doing this,” Nicotera said, saying it was an interesting way to get out of class and experience things that students will find later in life.

To add a twist of reality to the fair, organized by Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts in association with NHS math teacher Randy Gordon, a Reality Check booth was added. At this booth, students had to spin a wheel, which had expenditures on it, such as having to pay for a flat tire, as well as windfalls, like getting a bonus. Students only had to spin the wheel once, but some chose to test their luck multiple times.

“You have to do it, because, things come up unexpectedly,” said Regina Diemand, an administrative manager for the Pioneer Valley Symphony who ran the Reality Check booth. 

Professionals volunteered to oversee each booth at the fair, a job that Diemand said she signed up for because it’s important for students to learn about financial things before getting into the real world.

“We’re very very lucky to be able to do these,” said Jennifer Connolly, president of Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts.

The organization typically operates such fairs alongside banks, but Wednesday’s event marks one of the first times that the nonprofit has organized a fair itself. The event at the high school falls in line with the mission of the local chapter of Junior Achievement, which focuses 44 percent of its work on high school students compared to chapters elsewhere in the country that tend to focus at the elementary school level. 

Gordon, who has been teaching at NHS for about 20 years, applied for a state grant along with Junior Achievement to pay for the fair. He said this is the first time he has seen such a fair at NHS.

“It could become a regular annual thing,” he said.  

Credit checks

Credit scores had a notable effect on what students could do at the fair, and students could take a computerized quiz in an effort to raise their scores. Students could also take a part-time job for extra income, after passing an interview, as well as live with roommates to help with costs.

Once they had visited all the booths, the participants would then go to the credit counseling booth to see how well their budgeting had worked out.

Connolly said the fair helps students to see some of the details of different careers, such as the low salary of an artist or the high amount of debt a doctor has to take on. She also related the story of a teenage couple who went through one of the fairs together, and the girlfriend talked about “rethinking this relationship” because his lower credit score was dragging her down.

Reactions to the fair from the students were largely positive overall.

“It was a good experience,” said Luis Agugiza, 16.

He chose to be a corrections officer for the fair, and said the lesson he took from it was the necessity of being careful with one’s money.

“This is awesome,” said India Smith Grant.

Grant chose interior designer as her job, and raised her credit score from 590 to 660. She said she chose to visit the booths for what she considered to be essentials first. She also got $500 at the Reality Check booth.

Grant said she learned that while financial tasks are not as intimidating as they seem, they do take time.

Kelsey Belleau, 17, and Isaiah Anderson, 18, chose to be roommates for the fair. However, even before completing the simulation, Belleau was finding difficulty buying necessities on her musician’s salary, although Anderson still had funds as a music producer.

“I think it’s beneficial,” Belleau said of the fair.

Getting out of class

Some criticized the realism of the simulation.

“It wasn’t very realistic,” said Benson Luddy-Dunn, who said it wasn’t particularly flexible.

He also noted that he had succeeded in secretly altering his credit score with a pencil.

Luddy-Dunn, 17, Ethan Alexander Grant, and Charles Ryan, 16, all chose to live together for the fair and all chose to be psychologists.

“Sometimes people are gonna try and sell you stuff that you don’t need,” said Grant. “You just have to be assertive and say no.”

Ryan, meanwhile, talked about how important it was to have a good credit score. 

Zalia Maya, 17, chose actor as her profession, which has a low salary. However, she said, a lot of things went in her favor, including getting a well-paying part-time job, and scoring an $800 bonus at the Reality Check booth. She also started with a high credit score, 810, which she raised to 850.

“I need to save on a lot of different things in the future,” said Maya, on what she learned from the fair, saying that she thinks she does a lot of frivolous spending now.

Ella Strzegowski, 16, who picked biologist, said she ended the fair with a lot of money, but she thinks she’d end up with less in the real world because she didn’t include things like going to movies.

“Put as much money into your 401(k) as possible,” she said, when asked what she learned from the fair.

Marlene Marrocco volunteered at the Fun, Fun, Fun booth to tempt people to purchase additional things.

 “It’s a fabulous fair,” she said.

Marrocco, a retiree who owned two software co mpanies, noted that she learned business at her grandfather’s knee, who was a builder in Boston.

Gordon worked the transportation booth, and he said that a number of students opted for using the bus over buying a car, not for financial but for environmental reasons. He also said that a number of students were surprised at how much a car payment is.

“Hopefuly, it’s a rewarding experience, and people realize that life is a lot more complicated,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at budnau@gazettenet.com.

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