‘Keeping It Real’ program provides 9th graders glimpse into adulthood

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Cullman Economic Development Agency’s Belinda Hyatt helps CHS ninth graders as they learn to pay their way through adulthood. (Amy Leonard for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman High School ninth graders learned a valuable lesson this week – money doesn’t go as far as they thought it would as adults working in the real world with bills and responsibilities. The “Keeping It Real” program was presented to the students by the Cullman Economic Development Agency’s Belinda Hyatt and a team of volunteers from local businesses. 

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“This is such a good program, and all of the county schools participate as well,” explained Hyatt. “Some of the schools even do a follow up in the 12th grade as it all becomes real.” 

Each student was provided a random career along with an appropriate salary for his or her field and level of education. The income was followed with family size and the responsibility of budgeting for household bills. Tasked with visiting various booths where they paid for monthly expenditures such as childcare, mortgage or rent and insurance, the teens soon saw their salaries dwindled quickly depending on choices they made. 

(Amy Leonard for The Cullman Tribune)

Hyatt continued, “The main thing I like to get across on the first day is emphasize building a resume of character, those soft skills versus hard skills that you can learn and get. The soft skills will take them so far in life, being kind and generous.” 

Working on soft skills on day one of the two-day program, the students were taught the importance of punctuality and attention to detail to an employer. The students were given their career and family information on that day and they watched as taxes were cut from their income. 

On day two, budgeting began, and teens were tasked with selecting housing, appropriate vehicles based on family size and income, grocery shopping and more. Incidentals were covered with a spin of the wheel, with occurrences such as speeding tickets, income tax refunds and more. 

Faced with questions like, “I can work overtime for more money, but is that worth time away from my family?” and “Do I want to return to school and earn more money once graduated?” CHS ninth graders made their way creatively along the path of budgeting and planning for the future. 

“Keeping It Real” has been in local schools for at least 15 years and will continue to introduce Cullman students to the real-life decisions they will face sooner rather than later.  

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