Allison Mattox ’23 was a student at Mexico (Missouri) Middle School when she was confronted with what life would be like as an adult when it came to family finances and budgeting.
The Social Work major at William Woods was in eighth grade when she took part in a program called Reality Store, where participants go through a real-life simulation exercise of managing finances.
“It really gave me an experience about real life and how it works, and how challenging it could be to get expenses in line and what priorities my family might have to make,” she remembers. “I realized there might be hard choices that might have to be made to keep a family afloat.”
This week Mattox took part in the annual Reality Store simulation at her alma mater of Mexico Middle School, but this time as a senior college student majoring in Social Work at WWU. She is interning at the school as part of her Social Work Field Practicum this fall, and helped coordinate this year’s event with Mexico Public Schools and the Mexico Chamber of Commerce. More than 200 students from three Audrain County Schools took part.
“You can see how the participants learn about budgeting, the cost of living and most significantly, the need to have a high school education and post-education of some type,” said George Garner, Associate Professor of Social Work at WWU. “Many participants comment that they will go home and thank their parents for all they provide, they appreciate their parents more as they gain insight into how expensive it is to just live.”
This valuable experience in budgeting and finances would not be happening at Mexico Middle School if it wasn’t for the William Woods Social Work Program. 12 years ago, a WWU student named Kristi (Palmer) Briggs was completing her Senior Field Practicum at the school when she took the lead in organizing the first Reality Store event, which MMS never had the personnel to organize previously. Briggs worked with MMS faculty and staff, and the Mexico community to host the first event, and when those interactions became meaningful, Garner made the experience an assignment for his Interaction Skills course. For more than a decade, WWU Social Work students and faculty have worked to provide the program each year for students at MMS, which has been a real benefit for them.
“These students are just starting to think about their futures, at this age, and how complicated life can be,” said Julie Lower ’00 and ‘03, Principal at Mexico Middle School and a two-time graduate of William Woods. “This exercise is about getting their minds thinking about ‘I really want to be able to make decent money when I am adult so I can afford all of these things,’ and how to do that, they will need education, training and career path.”
The simulation event involves each student being assigned an occupation, salary and family scenario. They then rotate through a series of stations in the school’s gymnasium that each represent expenses they will face as adults, including purchasing a home, a vehicle, groceries, insurance, phones, utilities, etc. Depending on the salary they are assigned as part of the exercise, students will have to learn to budget their finances, and many have to revisit the stations to meet budget constraints. The exercise involves real professionals from the community to meet with the students about purchasing their services, as well as MMS faculty and William Woods Social Work students like Jennifer Batts ’24, another Mexico native.
“I remember being overwhelmed when doing this in middle school, but it also gave me an appreciation for the work that my parents do and how they have to make ends meet,” she said, recalling participation in the exercise as a middle school student at MMS. “It was really fascinating to get that glimpse into future life even though it was still in the distance a bit.”
And while the exercise is all about what it does for the middle school students that take part, it is equally valuable for the William Woods Social Work students that help facilitate Realty Store each year. It is another great benefit for those students who choose The Woods to pursue a degree and career in Social Work. “William Woods offered me so many opportunities and connections from my time at the University studying Social Work, including this experience,” said Mattox, who plans to pursue her social work career in her hometown. “I would not have traded it for any other college experience.”