On Thursday morning, freshmen and sophomores at Pilot Grove High School participated in Reality Enrichment and Life Lessons (REALL) which allowed the youth to learn about decision-making and potential consequences of those decisions. In essence, REALL prepares them for life after high school.
Research has shown that poor decision-making is a contributing factor for behavior such as substance abuse, school failure, delinquency, and early, unprotected sexual activity.
During the three-hour simulation, youth were given the opportunity to live two adult lives.
In the first life, students experienced the life of someone who had made reactive decisions and must now face the consequences of those decisions. This life consisted of four 15-minute sessions, each session representing a week. The students were each given a different set of circumstances. They had children, little or no transportation, were unemployed, etc.—all the things that adults deal with in the real world. During the simulation they had to cope with getting kids to daycare, paying for it, paying rent and utilities, job hunting, and other real life chores. Job applications were filled out in week one and interviews were conducted during week two. For those who were ex-offenders, they had to include reporting to their probation or parole officer. Those who didn’t check in were ‘picked up by the police and taken to jail.’ If ‘children’ were not picked up from daycare, they ended up in family services and the ‘parents’ had to go there to pick them up and explain why they had neglected to pick them up in the first place. One exercise included an announcement in the middle of week two: there was a flu outbreak at the daycare and parents needed to pick up their children immediately. At one point, students who hadn’t paid their rent were evicted from their homes. Students learned about community resources for those in need and what to do when there weren’t enough resources for everyone.
One student who was ‘in jail’ during part of the first session was overheard to say, “We need to get our lives turned around before we have kids.”
The second life experience was better. This time, in four 10-minute sessions, they experienced how it was for someone who had completed high school and made proactive decisions. They all started out with jobs, had fewer kids, and none of them were ex-offenders who had to report to probation and parole every week.
Following these two simulations, the students were debriefed and allowed to discuss what they had learned. Their one-word responses included stressful, challenging, exhausting, complicated, fun, awakening, and intense. One student said, “There was always another bill to pay.”
The adult volunteers for the simulation were, for the most part, playing themselves. Bankers were bankers, police officers worked for Cooper County sheriff’s department, etc. They, too, got to offer feedback.
Ashley Groepper, Superintendent of the Pilot Grove Schools, had volunteered to take job applications and do interviews. She told the youth, “I only had four jobs to hand out.  When I asked why I should hire you, many said ‘Because I have kids.’ Others said, ‘Because I’ll show up on time and work hard.’ It was the ones who said they’d do the job that I hired. Employers don’t care whether you have kids or not.”
Earl Haller, who volunteered to work at the utility company, had this to say. “Most of you paid in cash, but not one of you asked for a receipt. You should always ask for a receipt when you pay in cash. If anything happens, you have no proof that you paid the bill and your money is gone. When asked what he thought about the REALL program, Randy Glenn, Pilot Grove’s principal said, “It’s a positive experience for the choices they make.”
Superintendent Groepper added, “It’s very eye-opening for the students.”
Gay Baer, the school counselor, was in agreement. “I think it’s wonderful to put kids in these situations so they’ll see what they’ll face in the real world.”
Even local law enforcement is behind REALL. Amanda Blank, a Cooper County deputy, was on hand to handle the duties of probation and parole. “It shows kids how it feels to struggle and what hard work will do for you when you try.”