South Middle participates in ‘Get A Life’ to learn about finances

MORGANTOWN — With the blessing of the state of West Virginia, Brandon Wisman spent most of Monday morning making sure things were not going to work out for the eighth-graders of South Middle School.

“I’ve been delivering fiscal ruin all morning,” he said, grinning. “It’s great.”

Just for a personal and professional accounting, here, Wisman is a substitute teacher in Monongalia County.

And the day he spent derailing dreams was actually a lesson on household budgets and financial planning.

State Treasurer John Perdue, touring north-central West Virginia as part of his statewide “Money Smart Week Initiative,” was there watching, as well.

That’s where the state-sanctioned part of Wisman’s role came in.

Said activity is known as “Get a Life” —  it was developed at Fairmont State University —  and the idea is to work youngsters through the process of buying a car, a house, having a family and going to work.

South’s students went from various stations set up in the school gym, where they “bought” those wheels and those dwellings while trying to get through to the end of the month.

Just like the rest of us.

“Usually, you’re at the kitchen table, learning this stuff as it happens,” Perdue said.

Bankrolling, bankrupt

Perdue was one of them. Before he became state treasurer, his eldest child went off to college. That was back in the days when credit card offers were rampant on campus, the treasurer remembered.

“So my kid got one, and the next thing he knows is that he’s in all kinds of debt,” he said. “And Mom and Dad are bailing him out.”

The Get a Life exercise is about choices, he said: The ones you make and don’t make.

He nodded over at South Middle’s students —  most of whom were scowling down at their budget sheets for the exercise.

“Ninety percent of them go ‘bankrupt’ before they even hit the fourth station,” Perdue said.

Student Drew Williams was trying to divert the inevitable, but the “life” part of “Get a Life” kept popping from the shadows.

He acquired what he called a “sensible” car: A used 2005 Honda Civic, with reasonable mileage, to get him to and from his manufacturing job, as his persona for the game opted out of going to college.

That’s for the first round of the game.

The second round is a do-over, only with that go, the students are assigned the kinds of jobs one needs a college degree, or degrees, to obtain.

Which is another sly mission of the exercise: To emphasize the idea of educational attainment and earning power.

But that was then.

In the now, young Mr. Williams was struggling.

‘You’re killing me’

While he was being frugal, half of his money was already gone. Paying your medical insurance and filling your cart at the grocery store has a way of doing that.

“I don’t know how this is gonna turn out,” said the student, who wants to be a psychologist in real life.

Sandy Brown, the South Middle principal who was also helping out with the exercise, liked that her students were experiencing the psychology of the struggle, along with the dollars and cents.

A lot of her students apparently favor luxury cars, she said. They get the choice of what they want to “buy” during the exercise.

“They’ll go with a BMW,” the principal said, “and I have to say, ‘Can you afford the payments? Can you afford the insurance?’ And you never know what’s going to happen.”

Enter Wisman, who was relishing his role as the “Green” Reaper.

“I get to hand out cards that tell them their hot water heater is bad or the roof is leaking,” said Wisman, who graduated college in 2016 and is currently grappling with student loan debt himself.

His job Monday was to watch —  then swoop in, with his reaper-hood worn over his polo shirt for effect.

That’s what he did with one student who was bragging about the car she just bought.

“Hey, let me give you this card.”“It says I just backed into somebody. Are you serious? Oh, I forgot to buy insurance. I gotta go get insurance.”

“But you still have to pay me.”

“You’re killing me.”