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|California CU Branch Manager Lyudmila Pazyuk talks to 14-year-old Hoover High School student Shant Wahram about his transportation options during the Bite of Reality program held recently at the school.|
The event—which aims to teach young people the basics of finance by having them take a “real world” test drive complete with a job, money and the freedom to make their own financial decisions—was run by employees from the credit union, who volunteered their time.
The students—who attend teacher Chuck Saint’s Guidance classes at the high school—were given a fictional occupation, salary, spouse and family, student loan debt, credit card debt, and medical insurance payments. They then visited various stations to "purchase" items such as housing, transportation, food, clothing, household necessities, and daycare. They battled their way past pushy salesmen, unexpected expenses and windfalls, and expensive tastes to keep themselves in the black, and learn how to budget and make wise financial choices. Those staffing the "credit union" station provided much-needed assistance when some overspent.
Some, like 14-year-old Alex Sarkisian, lamented their meager salaries and the high cost of living. He was a television broadcast technician making about $2,000 a month.
“I’m getting a better job and I’m not going to have any debt,” Alex said, when asked what the simulation program had taught him.
Sophia Ramos, 15, was given the occupation of cook while her “husband” was a brick layer. Together they took home $3,373 a month. Still, the cost of having a child was eye-opening for her. “I knew they were expensive, but not that expensive,” she said.
Edgar Abaamyn, 14, said the program gives him a head start on the future. “I never thought you needed to buy all of these things as a grownup,” he said, waving his arm toward the various stations in the room.
That taste of reality is exactly what the event coordinators hope young people take away from the program.
This is so relevant and so powerful,” said Saint, who is head of the Health and Guidance Department at Hoover High School. The Guidance class, which he helped create five years ago, helps transition students from middle school to high school. It touches upon study skills, life skills, and social responsibility.
“I like that it gets kids to figure things out on their own, which relates perfectly to the common core standards in California,” Saint added.
California CU Chief Marketing Officer Ron Stratman thought the program went very well.
Stratman added that the program will be offered again next year and it will become a part of the curriculum at the school.
"Giving teens this hands-on opportunity to experience making financial decisions in a low-risk setting gives them a better understanding of the challenges of living on a budget before they have to make those decisions in the ‘real world’," said Tena Lozano, executive director of the RMJ Foundation.