'Big Bank Theory' puts Manatee County high school seniors to work
BRADENTON -- Taking on jobs as public relations specialists, preschool teachers or architects, students at Manatee High School got a firsthand look at what life may be like at 25.
For some, reality was harsh as bills piled up and bank accounts ran dry.
"Love doesn't pay the bills," said 17-year-old senior Chloe Hollands.
Hollands was randomly assigned to be an artist at age 25, making a hair over $23,000 a year. In her pretend scenario, she has a bachelor's degrees, a 6-year-old son and a husband who doesn't work. Making ends meet during the assignment was tough.
Each year, the Manatee Chamber Foundations hosts "The Big Bank Theory" at each of the six public high schools in Manatee County, aiming to give seniors a hands-on exercise about budgeting money and setting priorities. The program added on Inspiration Academy, a private school in West Bradenton, as the seventh high school to take part this year. Manatee High was the last school served in this cycle.
Students are given a full-time job and yearly income. Income is broken down into a monthly rate and the student's task is simple: pay your bills for the month and still have money left in the bank.
Turns out, it's not always easy.
Thelmore Langston, a 17-year-old senior trying to navigate as a 25-year-old preschool teacher bringing in $20,000 a year, decided one income simply wasn't enough. Her imaginary husband wasn't working but was caring for their 4-year-old child. With only $1,387 to spend monthly on Langston's income alone, that just wasn't going to cut it for her.
"I'm about to put him to work," she said.
In the South Gym at Manatee High, 14 booths represented the different bills the students would have to pay, including rent or mortgage payments, groceries, clothes, insurance and car payments.
Students made choices adults make in real life every day -- store-brand versus name-brand peanut butter and whether to spring for a Mercedes or ride the bus to work.
One of the mandatory booths called "That's Life," forces students to pull a card and deal with something unexpected -- maybe a speeding ticket, or potentially, a winning lottery ticket.
"It's a real eye opener for people who don't have a plan," said Ben Dechelbor, a 17-year-old senior.
Dechelbor was assigned to be a 25-year-old toolmaker bringing in $31,000 a year. He wasn't married, but was responsible for 1-year-old and 3-year-old children. Dechelbor had to make $2,029 last the month. He started at the clothing booth, because it had a short line, but he knew his priorities were making sure he had health insurance and groceries.
"I thought that was pretty important," he said.
The hope is students will realize the importance of making it through the real-life issues in a safe manner with no real risks, said Jahna Leinhauser, chamber vice president of community development.
"We grab the seniors and let them get a glimpse. They can make the mistakes here and, hopefully once they get out into the world, they'll remember what they did here," she said.
Most of the experience is just practice, but a new partnership added a real-life component. A new station was added this year, where students could register to vote "in real life," Leinhauser said, as part of a partnership between the chamber foundation and the supervisor of elections. In Florida, students can preregister to vote at 16.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.