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Hands-on reality fairs popular way to bring fin. ed. to students
MADISON, Wis. (5/14/14)--Simulating the challenges of staying on a budget--with the occasional temptation or emergency thrown in--is the main focus of reality fairs that credit unions use to educate students of all ages.

Commonly held throughout the year, reality fairs pick up speed during National Financial Literacy Month, which was in April.

Students at Ocean County College Southern Education Center, Toms River, N.J., look over the housing options during a financial reality fair sponsored by New Jersey credit unions. (New Jersey Credit Union League photo)
Thirty-five students Ocean County College, Toms River, N.J., took part in the financial reality fair as part of a pilot program between New Jersey credit unions and the college's Southern Education Center (The Daily Exchange April 15).

For the college-level fairs, students are asked to provide information ahead of time. By submitting their current credit score, checking and savings account balances, current rent payment, number of dependents (children or adults), and expected student loan payment, the students then receive worksheets that are even more tailored to the simulation.

Many of these students were frugal, The Daily Exchange noted. Most chose to live at home, bought the least expensive car and worked part-time at a second job to make ends meet and stay within their monthly budget.

This week, the Pineywoods Chapter of the Cornerstone Credit Union League and People's Trust FCU, Houston, with $445 million in assets, presented CU 4 Reality programs to Hudson High School, Lufkin, and Kerr High School, Houston, respectively.

"These students from the time they first make money at a part-time job until long after they retire will need to be responsible and manage their money in a way that we more seasoned adults do not," said Julianne Slusher, CEO of $29 million-asset Lufkin FCU and vice president of the Pineywoods Chapter (Leaguer May 12).

John Kebles, REAL Solutions program manager, sets the stage for a Uniontown, Pa., credit union reality fair for students from Laurel Highlands High School, Albert Gallatin High School and the intermediate unit of Fayette County Technical Institute. (Pennsylvania Credit Union Association photo)
"These students may not have Social Security, or company retirement plans to fall back on. Their future could be what they save, so it's critical that they have the tools to do so," she added.

The El Camino Chapter of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues facilitated a "Bite of Reality" fair at Burlingame (Calif.) High School. Teacher Annie Miller, who also is a board member for $52 million-asset United Heath CU, helped bring the simulation to the high school.

Mad City Money also is a popular program during National Financial Literacy Month.

Rantoul, Ill., credit unions Community Plus FCU, with $19 million in assets, and Credit Union 1, with $745 million in assets, presented the program to Eater Junior High School, Rantoul. A total of 128 eighth-graders were assigned a profession then tasked to manage finances based on situations given to them.

Media often pick up on these community financial literacy programs. Mad City Money and Central Macomb Community CU, Clinton Township, Mich., with $163 million in assets, were the subject of a feature article in The Macomb Daily (April 23). Photos of earnest students at L'Anse Creuse High School and quotes such as "Money goes fast, and the kids are expensive--I need to make more than $3,000 a month," help show the impact that these exercises have.
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