High School Reality Fair provides insight into life after college

  • Cassidy Upton and Erykka Herny, of Mohawk Trail Regional School, and Elijah Furtado, of the Franklin County Technical School, fill out forms for the Reality Fair at Greenfield Community College on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Students in the Reality Fair at Greenfield Community College spend part of their income on transportation — or not. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Emily Laus, of Frontier Regional School, takes a turn on the Reality Wheel at the Reality Fair at Greenfield Community College. The wheel had corresponding cards that deal out good or bad things that could occur. Laus was dealt a card that said her pet had damaged her rental apartment and she had to pay for repairs. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Students at the Reality Fair decide how to spend part of their income on housing. Greenfield High School students Dina Samake, Hannah Mailloux and Mackenzie Southwick talk about options, maybe a roommate situation. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/19/2019 11:28:58 PM

GREENFIELD — Frontier Regional School seniors Ryan Loveland and David Chevalier got a dose of reality Tuesday morning as they tried to spend their pretend monthly salaries on living expenses.

“I think I’m going to have to start off with a roommate to cut my expenses in half,” Loveland, of Sunderland, said.

Loveland and Chevalier were two of the many students across the county who attended the High School Reality Fair at Greenfield Community College on Tuesday. The fair, hosted by the college, is sponsored by Franklin First and UMass Five College credit unions and the Franklin County Rotary Club. 

“We’ve been doing this for several years, now,” Amy Proietti, coordinator of financial aid at GCC, said. “We have 17 booths that students visit.”

Proietti said students pretend they are their 20-something selves who have graduated from college and started their careers. She said each is given a padfolio with all sorts of information, including their starting annual salary, broken down into a monthly salary, and a budget book to keep track of their expenses.

Students visit every booth and decide how much they’re going to spend on things like housing, transportation, food, utilities, savings, insurance, fitness, student loans, charity, electronics, entertainment and more.

“Many end up circling back to housing or transportation at the very end, after they realize how much it takes to live and that they’ve overspent in those areas,” Cathy Roberts, a realtor with Cohn & Company Real Estate Agency in Greenfield, said.

Paige Eddy, a senior at Frontier, said she went into the fair interested to see how much money she would need to start life on her own.

“It’s not what I expected,” Eddy said. “First, I had to budget $150 for clothes each month — much more than I thought.”

Eddy chose to be an audiologist making $51,750 a year. She said there are a lot of things she feels she could exclude from her budget, like entertainment, pets, haircuts — not high priorities.

“I’d certainly be open to having roommates right out of college,” she said.

Nicole Fowler and Amy Sullivan, both college staffers, said even if students claim they can cut certain expenses from their budgets, they aren’t allowed to, because it’s not realistic.

“We bring the ‘real’ in reality to them,” Fowler said. “They’re not never going to go out, for instance.”

Aidan Duncan, a junior at Mohawk Trail Regional High School, said he didn’t fill out the paperwork in time, so he was given hospitality manager as a career making $46,300 a year.

“I never even thought about investing or saving — they expect us to save 3 percent of our salary every month,” he said. “That’s part of our budget. It makes sense, because unexpected things happen.”

Students also had to visit a “reality wheel” twice while they made the rounds. Some received extra money, or even a windfall, after spinning, while others had to deal with unexpected car repairs or other large expenses they didn’t plan for within their budget. 

“I’m changing my viewpoint about how to spend,” Duncan said. “It’s also making me consider the higher-paying careers.”

Ethan Bower, a junior at Mohawk, said even though he was given a career as a lawyer making $50,670 a year, he was having a tough time, because after spinning the reality wheel, he ended up with unexpected car expenses.

“This maybe isn’t going to be as easy as I thought,” he said. “It’s providing me with some insight into what it will be like after school, and I’m looking forward to it a little less than I was.”

Proietti said some students learned they are going to have to get a second or third job as they walked through the fair. 

“It’s a lot like real life,” she said. “If they find out they need more than one job, they then have to pretend to find one, so they have to go through that process, as well.”

She said every student has to leave the reality fair with at least one pretend dollar in their pocket.

Corrine Fitzgerald, owner of Fitzgerald Real Estate, and Shannon Doran, school-to-career coordinator at MassHire Department of Career Services Franklin and Hampshire counties, ran the reality wheel.

“This is a real dose of reality,” Fitzgerald said. “You never know what’s going to happen. It’s all about how they adjust and what they do to make it work.”

“This is an opportunity for them to explore and consider what they want to do,” Doran said. “But sometimes what they’ve chosen can be a game changer when they learn how it will affect them financially.”

Abby Drew and Kensy Wickman, students at GCC, manned the pet booth. They said six people visited the booth first, before they even knew whether their pretend apartment would allow pets.

“This teaches students that you have to think of more than just wanting a pet,” Drew said.

Rotary Club member Sandy Walters and GCC student Carrie Hale ran the food and fitness booth. Walters had run the clothing booth for two years in the past.

“Students learn that they really have to think about how they’re going to feed themselves and stay active,” she said. “They have to think about how they eat and stay fit — and what that will cost — will line up with what they’ve been used to doing.”

Organizers and volunteers said they watch students as they move through the exercise — some move through quietly on their own, while others have friends helping guide them, and some seem relaxed and at ease, while others seem to fret a bit.

“At the end of the day, we hope they’ve all learned some important lessons to take into real life,” said Proietti. 


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