Berea Community Middle School eighth-graders got a lesson in growing up on March 5 when they participated in “The Reality Store” in their school’s gymnasium. The activity challenged each student to pay bills using a salary chosen at random. The experience helped the students learn about the financial obligations they could face as they become adults. Eighth-graders were presented with financial options and resources they could have as they chose certain career paths based on their education level and tried to raise a family. Berea College’s GEAR UP Partnership, Madison County businesses and youth leadership programs helped coordinate the event.

According to eighth-grader Daniel Jacobs, students gained a sense of the financial future they could face in adulthood. “I like the fact that we were presented with this financial reality at a young age to better prepare us for the future.”


There were several contributors that made the Reality Store a reality. The Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky River Foothills Youth Investment Project, Madison County financial businesses such as Central Bank and Berea College’s GEAR UP Partnership all had a hand in the event. Nadia Karkenny, GEAR UP College Preparation Assistant said, “As adults, some people waste a lot of money because they don’t know how to save. This Reality Store is a great financial resource that gives these students guidance.”

The bank booth was the students’ first stop. There they picked up a pamphlet that explained that they were now 28-years-old, married and needed to provide for a family with between one and six children. Each student was then given a randomly assigned grade point average. The GPAs corresponded to jobs on the Reality Store chart, with higher GPAs leading to higher paying jobs. Each job gave the student a monthly income, after taxes. The income then went into the student’s checking account.

Balancing their checkbooks was key to managing their finances, as the students spent their money. The eighth-graders’ goals were to provide for needs first, wants second and spend less than they earned.

If the students got stuck or had any questions, they could visit the financial coach booth. The financial coach would look at their income and expenses and explain some choices they could make to complete their day successfully.


The chance booth allowed the students to get out of debt by picking from a glass bowl full of colorful slips of paper that represented extra money. Some of the extra money was in the form of lottery winnings, a raise at work or insurance money gained from a car accident.

Other booths focused on housing and utilities, health and car insurance, paying for groceries, putting children in childcare, buying clothes for the family and paying for communication devices such as cell phones and internet service.

The rewards table gave students recognition for improving their financial literacy. One treat was a Dum Dum candy with a sign attached that read, “Congratulations, you are not a Financial Dum Dum.”


Facilitators of the event realized it had a big influence on the eighth-graders when the students began to form their own opinions about the importance of making smart financial choices. Charlotte Haycraft, Berea Community Middle School GEAR UP Academic Specialist, said, “I did not see the impact of these booths until I saw the choices the students were making. The students began to understand how their financial choices, career paths, and education levels could affect a marriage and family. Overall, I thought this event was very impactful.”

Berea Community Middle School Reality Store Gallery