The Reality Store is a program supported by Kentucky 4-H to allow middle and high school students to get an experience of adult life. The Reality Store helps youth realize that their career choice and the education required for that career choice and their potential adult life style are closely related. Students get to experience how expenses and necessities, as well as luxuries, must be balanced with the reality of monthly incomes at the Reality Store. Workforce Preparation is presented to grades six, seven and eight in every school in Harlan County as part of the School Enrichment Program. Over 1,200 students complete this project each month, which includes “Open Your Eyes to the World of Work” for sixth-graders. The activities in this program guide youth toward discovering a variety of careers available in the community in which they live. They explore careers related to government, education, infrastructure, natural resources, and business/industry. “Scope It Out” is for seventh-graders. 4-H Club Members take charge of their own exploration of careers. They investigate skills used in a variety of specific jobs, use communication skills to make arrangements for and complete a career shadowing experience. “Jump Start for Job Seekers” is for eighth-graders. Teens in these 4-H Clubs take charge of gaining job seeking skills through hands-on experience in filling out an application, writing a letter of application and resume, workplace etiquette, and interviewing. All these activities for six-, seven-, and eighth-grades lead to the ninth-grade “Reality Store.”
The Reality Store will work this way in Harlan County. Harlan County Christian, Victory Road Academy, Harlan Home School, Harlan Independent and Harlan County School officials, guidance counselors, teachers, Resource Center personnel, the Harlan County 4-H Agent, County Extension Agents, interested volunteers and community business representatives will set up tables or “Store Fronts” at the Harlan County Extension Depot, located on River Street in Harlan, on Nov. 15 and Nov. 16. On Nov. 15, Harlan County High School will attend the 4-H Reality Store beginning at 8:30 a.m. On Nov. 16, Harlan County High School will finish and Harlan Independent, Victory Road Academy, Harlan Home School, and Harlan County Christian School will attend. The “Store Fronts” will provide each student such services as banking, grocery shopping, insurance sales, transportation, clothing shopping, tax payments, childcare, utilities and more.
Every ninth-grader enrolled in any public, private or home schools in Harlan County will be offered a career choice based on his or her current grade point standing and educational aspirations. With his or her monthly “paycheck” in hand, each student will be required to visit the bank and then each “Store Front” to purchase goods and services for the month. Those who spend wisely may have money left over at the end of the month. Students whose monthly salaries are minimal, or who make extravagant purchases, will barely break even or go bankrupt. For those students, there will be an SOS station where they may receive counseling or part time jobs to make ends meet. Even though the Reality Store is make-believe, we want it to carry a strong message. “Where did all my money go?” asked one exasperated ninth-grader last year, who expected to live luxuriously on a 2.0 grade point average, adding “Something isn’t right here!” Comments from one Reality Store Volunteer last year was, “It’s a rude awakening, but it’s an awakening. When girls start figuring out how expensive it is to have children, it makes them think. This event is not only about urging students to improve their grades, but discouraging young girls from getting pregnant.” Another volunteer added, “You can see it in the faces of some of these teens when they realize that their D average is not going to lead to a prosperous job with a large salary. They start rethinking how well they’re doing in their studies. This is an eye-opening event which makes an impact.”