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Sticker shock

For a group of Hedrick Middle School students, adulthood lost some of its appeal when they realized they would have to forgo a sports car, designer clothes and comprehensive cable package to feed their make-believe families.

“Can I put my kids up for adoption?” joked Levi Alter, 14, an eighth-grader at Hedrick in real life and a 29-year-old father and personal agent in an imaginary life assigned to him during an interactive simulation Thursday.

“Why are taxes so high?” asked another Hedrick student, Skyler Artale, 14, after realizing that she and her pretend husband and child would have a net monthly income of only about $5,000.

“And how come I make $3,607, and my spouse only makes $1,870?” she said. “That’s pathetic.”

About 400 eighth-graders from Hedrick and Grace Christian middle schools participated in Junior Achievement’s annual Finance Park this week in the Central Medford High School gym. The four-and-a-half-hour simulation is conducted on iPads and is the culmination of about five weeks of lessons on credit worthiness, interest rates, balancing a checkbook, family budgeting and other financial topics.

The curriculum not only helps students meet the financial literacy standards set by the Oregon Board of Education but also gives students a taste of what it’s like to budget, pay bills and live within their means.

Junior Achievement of Jackson and Josephine counties began offering the program about four years ago but this year, upgraded to a new iPad app designed by Junior Achievement USA.

The app also has been adapted to reflect the incomes, family sizes and cost of living in Southern Oregon, explained Deanna Wilson, the district director of the local Junior Achievement office.

The cost of the curriculum is about $55 to $60 per student. However, while the schools cover up to 3 percent of that, the rest is paid for by corporate sponsors, foundations and local venues, Wilson said.

The Financial Park includes 140 iPads, as well as 16 kiosks with information on 20 household budget lines. At the kiosks, students get information on their options for housing, health insurance, groceries, clothing, utilities, childcare and more and learn about the costs associated with those options.

“There’s a lil' shock-and-awe factor as they realize what things cost, especially childcare,” said Wilson. “The students think that with two toddlers they can get by spending only $200 a month on childcare. It’s $600 to $800 a month and more expensive for babies.”

In the app, students are assigned an identity, including a job, a salary, a credit score, savings account, debt and, for some, children and a spouse.

In her fictional life, Victoria Adelman, 13, is a 34-year-old, single auto damage estimator with two children. She has $5,000 of education debt, $290 of credit card debt, a credit score of 700 and a gross annual income of $51,500.

“I wish I had fewer kids and made more money,” Victoria said after reviewing her identity.

After calculating the taxes on their wages and seeing their net monthly income, the students are told to “pay themselves” or set aside money for retirement, savings and emergencies. The app allows the students to designate whether they want to set aside 5, 10 or 15 percent of their income for these three line items.

“Should we pull from our savings once we start shopping or should we try to cut back in other areas?” Wilson asked her group of eighth-graders Thursday.

It’s fun to see how the students prioritize their money, Wilson said later.

Some choose to shop for secondhand clothes to afford organic produce, while others insist on a sports car.

Levi, who was working with a monthly income of $3,871, said he would buy designer clothes for himself and cheaper clothes for his kids to cut costs.

Only an hour into the activity, Skyler, who admitted she’s a spender in real life, said she wished she hadn’t put $600 in savings at the start of the simulation.

“According to my mom, money burns a hole in my pocket,” she said.

At the end of the simulation, the students are informed what their monthly income would have been if they had minimum-wage jobs in the hope that it will inspire them to pursue a post-secondary education, Wilson said.

The Medford School District has chosen to implement the program at the eighth-grade level so that students will be aware of the cost of living when they choose a pathway in the ninth grade, Wilson said.

“Most of the students are overwhelmed by the end of the day, but they have a whole new understanding of what their parents are going through and that’s the biggest take-away,” she said. “Especially, if it means they start shortening their showers or asking for less.”

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt

Hedrick Middle School eigth-graders Rachel McDaniel, left, and Skyler Artale react after learning about child-care costs during the Junior Achievement Finance Park at Central High School in Medford on Thursday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch