Life is fun. Life is hard. Life is full of the unexpected. How do you teach young adults about life, when life is so many different things?
The Madison County Chamber of Commerce decided to take on this task and applied for a grant through the Learning Zone After School Program. The chamber was awarded the grant and quickly began implementing the Game of Life classes during Learning Zone at Kelly A. Burlison Middle School.
On Dec, 15, the program came to an end as the entire eighth grade class participated in the Game of Life demonstration. During the event, each student picked a career, received his or her paycheck (minus taxes), and then had to work his or her way through life without going over budget.
The KABMS gym had stations for students to purchase a car, purchase or rent a home, purchase insurance, pay utility bills, decide how they would budget for food and clothing, pay student loans, pay property and personal property taxes, and finally before checking their budget sheets, they each spun the “That’s Life” wheel.
The wheel was a favorite stop among the students. Just like life, the wheel was unpredictable. Some students were awarded money for things such as “your TikTok video goes viral collect $100,” while others lost money due to things like “you fell off the roof hanging Christmas lights, you owe $100 in medical bills.”
The game was also kept unpredictable as School Resource Officer Jacob Musgrove handed out “parking” and “disturbing the peace” tickets to random students during the event.
“We wanted the Game of Life to teach the students that you can plan everything out, but sometimes life throws you a curveball,” MCCC President Beth Simmons said. “As a group and as a community, we wanted to help show kids some of these life lessons before they start making career path decisions at the high school level.”
Simmons said things like taxes coming out of their paychecks, being required to have car insurance, and the cost of utilities were just a few things students found shocking.
“Our committee of chamber members jumped at the opportunity to help our local kids,” Simmons said. “So much work went into gathering career information, coming up with a plan, writing the grant, coordinating with the school, teaching classes, and more, but it was all worth it when we saw the students learning and really having fun doing it.”
After the event, 96 students responded to a follow-up survey and the responses were fantastic. It was reported 89.6% of the students still had money at the end of the game. When asked what was the favorite part, one student said, they loved all of it, and the activity was very fun and helpful.
Another student said their favorite part was when Officer Musgrove gave them a ticket. Overall, the obvious favorite was the “That’s Life” wheel. Just like unexpected things in life, it left a lasting impression.
“Throughout the entire process the students learned each step from members of our community who they would actually go to for these things in real life,” Simmons said. “At this young age, they are building connections and, in a way, having real life experiences but in a safe controlled environment.”
Each of the stations was manned by a member of the chamber. When students visited the “home” booth they talked to Living the Dream Realty about home options. They talked to a banker from Ozarks Federal Savings and Loan. They bought insurance from Shelter Insurance and paid utilities to Black River Electric and the City of Fredericktown. They paid taxes to the Madison County Collector and made food choices with Gary Turner from The Depot Cafe. Then, after spinning the wheel, they reached the finish line.
After calculating their final budget and seeing if they went “bankrupt” or not, each student was gifted with a free Game of Life T-shirt and a special goodie bag.
Each bag consisted of items that to most would seem pretty random but each item had a specific meaning. Inside students found, a gold coin for luck, two Dum-Dum suckers because everyone makes silly mistakes, Play-Doh to remind them to always have fun in life, a Payday candy bar, and a piece of fake food because you just never know what life is going to bring.
One student said, they learned that taxes are horrible and things in life are very expensive.
Another said they learned that you have to watch what you spend.
While another said the game showed them life is wild and you spend a lot of money.
“I learned that life is not as scary as I believed, but it’s still difficult in reality,” one student said in the Game of Life survey.
“Seeing the student responses to the survey really made all the hard work worth it,” Simmons said. “The answers were anonymous and eighth graders are definitely going to tell us the truth, so when they started saying things like ‘it was a fun activity and I hope it is used in the future for other students,’ I knew they really liked it.”
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org