The Harlan County 4-H Reality Store is a program supported by Kentucky 4-H to allow middle and high school students to get an experience of adult life. The Reality Store helps youth realize that their career choice and the education required for that career choice and their potential adult life style are closely related. Students get to experience how expenses and necessities, as well as luxuries, must be balanced with the reality of monthly incomes at the Reality Store.
Workforce Preparation is presented to sixth- through eighth-grades in every school in Harlan County as part of the School Enrichment Program. Over 1,200 students complete this project each month, which includes “Open Your Eyes to the World of Work” for sixth-graders. The activities in this program guide youth toward discovering a variety of careers available in the community in which they live. They explore careers related to government, education, infrastructure, natural resources, and business/industry.
“Scope It Out” is for seventh-graders. 4-H Club members take charge of their own exploration of careers. They investigate skills used in a variety of specific jobs, use communication skills to make arrangements for and complete a career shadowing experience. “Jump Start for Job Seekers” is for eighth-graders. Teens in these 4-H Clubs take charge of gaining job seeking skills through hands-on experience in filling out an application, writing a letter of application and resume, workplace etiquette, and interviewing. All these activities for sixth- through eighth-grades lead to the ninth-grade “Reality Store.”
The Reality Store will work this way in Harlan County. Harlan Home School, Harlan Independent and Harlan County School officials, the ChalleNGe Academy, guidance counselors, teachers, resource center personnel, the Harlan County 4-H agent, county extension agents, interested volunteers and community business representatives will set up tables or “Store Fronts” at the Harlan County Extension Depot, located on River Street in Harlan, on Dec. 10 and 11. On Dec. 10, Harlan County High School will attend the 4-H Reality Store beginning at 8:30 a.m. On Dec. 11, Harlan Independent, Harlan Home School and the ChalleNGe Academy will attend. The “Store Fronts” will provide each student such services as banking, grocery shopping, insurance sales, transportation, clothing shopping, tax payments, childcare, utilities, housing, automobile shopping, child care, furniture shopping, entertainment, check writing and more.
Every ninth-grader enrolled in any public, private or home schools in Harlan County will be offered a career choice based on his or her current grade point standing and educational aspirations. With his or her monthly “paycheck” in hand, each student will be required to visit the bank and then each “Store Front” to purchase goods and services for the month. Those who spend wisely may have money left over at the end of the month. Students whose monthly salaries are minimal, or who make extravagant purchases, will barely break even or go bankrupt. For those students, there will be an SOS station where they may receive counseling or part time jobs to make ends meet.
Even though the Reality Store is make-believe, we want it to carry a strong message. “Where did all my money go?” asked one exasperated ninth-grader last year, who expected to live luxuriously on a 2.0 grade point average, adding “Something isn’t right here!” Comments from one Reality Store volunteer was, “It’s a rude awakening, but it’s an awakening.” When girls start figuring out how expensive it is to have children, it makes them think. This event is not only about urging students to improve their grades, but discouraging young girls from getting pregnant.” Another volunteer added, “You can see it in the faces of some of these teens when they realize that their D average is not going to lead to a prosperous job with a large salary. They start rethinking how well they’re doing in their studies. This is an eye-opening event which makes an impact.”
Statistics show that young men and women with specific goals for their futures significantly improve their chances for success in the adult world than teens without career plan.
Even though the Reality Store is make-believe, we want it to carry a strong message. Students who complete the course and have money left in their account will receive a Pay Day candy bar. Students who complete the course and have no money left in their bank accounts will receive a Zero candy bar as they check out and fill out evaluation sheets.
We will be assuming that every student is 25 years old, and each must randomly draw a number to determine how many imaginary children (0 to 4) they must support. Students will find that childcare is one of the biggest expenses they will encounter. Students must all visit the “Chance Store.” At the “Chance Store,” life will deal them something unexpected. It could be as rewarding as winning free groceries or inheriting some money. It could also be disastrous, such as a storm damaging their home.
Students may choose from a long career list (based on grade point average) that includes electrical engineer, government administrator, coal miner, construction worker, aircraft mechanic, agricultural scientist, teacher, professor, administrator, farm machine operator, physicist, conservation officer, cook, and custodian. The idea is not to tell them which careers are best, but to teach youth that they need to plan ahead. A minimum wage job may sound like a lot of money to a 14-year-old, but we want them to ask themselves if a minimum wage will meet their needs when they are older adults.
The Reality Store is one of the several programs supported by Kentucky 4-H and UK Cooperative Extension that helps youngsters learn necessary skills for employment — a top priority under guidelines recommended by the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Labor Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills.
Kentucky 4-H helps youth prepare for life. The Reality Sore in Harlan County will help them do this. We want the Reality Store to be a wake-up call at a time when students still have time to do something about it. This is the 19th year Harlan County 4-H has sponsored this event. Each ninth grade student attending any school in Harlan County will have had a chance to go through the Reality Store. It takes approximately 40 volunteers each day to conduct the Reality Store, and some volunteers have been with The Store from the beginning.
A 4-H Reality Store Planning Meeting will be held at the Harlan County 4-H Annex Building, located beside the Harlan County Extension Office, at non on Nov. 19. Lunch will be provided. Principals, school counselors, resource center workers and anyone interested in volunteering is invited to attend. I would like to take this opportunity to express appreciation to each person who has volunteered to help with the Reality Store and other 4-H programs, and extend an invitation to anyone who would like to help this year to contact Raymond Cox, county extension agent for 4-h/youth development at 606-573-4464 or 606-273-0835.
Raymond Cox is the Harlan County extension agent for 4-H/youth development. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.