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|10-29-02: Celina Middle School
students get reality check on personal budgeting
|By JEAN ZEHRINGER GIESIGE
Did your kid chip a tooth this week, requiring some unanticipated
dentistry? Did your hot water heater die? Your cable bill go up?
The eighth-graders at Celina Middle School can sympathize. They've got
budget troubles of their own.
Some of the school's teachers are putting their eighth-grade students
through a budget project, in which they're expected to find transportation and housing,
feed their families and generally live within their means. The students are learning that
it's not as easy as their parents make it look.
"We've already had a discussion about how now they'll know when
parents give them reasons why the family can't just go out and buy whatever it wants, that
the parents aren't just making up excuses," said math teacher Tammy Cisco, who
recently launched the budget project in her classroom. "This is going to help them
understand all the reasons why."
In Cisco's class, and in eighth-grade teacher Jason Tribolet's room,
students randomly selected their adult persona from a stack of cards. Some found that they
were suddenly married, with children; others are single parents. They also randomly chose
a profession with a salary level, and a savings account.
In the budget project, eighth-grader Kevin Kramer, 14, for instance, is
a father of three and a waiter making $12,000 a year. He already knows the budget project
is going to be a challenge for him. Laura Masser, 14, is a construction worker earning
$28,000 a year, and raising two kids on her own.
These are not situations that either would have chosen for themselves.
"It helps that my wife is a salesperson making $20,000," said
Kramer, whose fictional wife was also assigned to him. "She wears the pants in the
The students are told how many children they have, but they are allowed
to select the children's age and gender.
"Not too many babies are showing up, because of the diaper
thing," said Cisco.
Last week in Cisco's class, students filled out job applications in
their field. This week, they're working on resumes. Next, the students will be assigned to
find housing and transportation that they can afford.
In Tribolet's class, students are now buying their cars. Garrett
Marbaugh, 13, has chosen a Hyundai Tiburon, a sporty little model that's costing him $500
a month of his $28,000 teacher's salary. It's a tight squeeze, fitting his two kids into
the car, he said.
"But the kids love it," he said. "We'll make it
At least his kids will have more room than Betsy Hone's kids. Hone, 13,
a physician earning $90,000 a year, bought a Nissan 350Z, which has no back seat. Katie
White, 13, a single mom and a waiter earning $12,000, is looking around for a station
"I need to drive my kid to school," she said.
In teacher Christie Binkley's classroom, students could choose their
own jobs from positions they found on the Internet (no professional ball players were
"But wherever they found their job, that's where they had to live.
They had to learn that they can't have a job in New York and live in Ohio," Binkley
One student who chose a job in New York City soon learned a little bit
about city life; the cheapest home he could find for sale on the Internet was a
one-bedroom townhouse selling for $250,000.
"They understand a lot more about the cost of living in a bigger
city," Binkley said.
In all the classes, the budget project goes on one day a week, in
addition to the rest of the math curriculum. Once a week, students also draw a life card
that throws them the same kind of curve balls that their parents experience.
"Some are good, some are bad: your garage door opener broke, you
had a baby, you took a pay cut, you got a raise," Binkley said. "My kids get
really upset when they draw a bad one."
Megan Roby, 13, has had a tough time in the budget project in Binkley's
class. One life card dealt her a $5,000 pay cut in her job as an investment
representative. Although she tried to live within her means, she has found herself $3,000
"It's hard," she said. "All the things around the house
that break, all those bills."
Most of the students have thrown themselves into the budget project and
take the life cards and the rest of the process very seriously, Cisco said.
"We work on our budget project on Friday. It's a fun way to end
the week," she said. "A lot of times kids don't come into math class asking,
'What are we going to do today?' But they do on Friday."
Tribolet, who first came up with the budget project three years ago,
said he will run the project all the way through March in his classroom. There are plenty
of things the students will have to learn, either in his classroom or on their own.
"When I went to college, I was kind of thrown by all this, the
bills and the expenses - I had real-world shock," he said. "I want these kids to
get a feel for all this before they have to do it for themselves: how to write out a
check, how to stick to a budget. I wish someone had done it for me."
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