WD, Cascade seniors get taste of real life, managing finances at annual academy

EPWORTH, Iowa — Area high school seniors got a taste of real life this week as they tried to balance adult budgets.

The students on Tuesday participated in the “Real Life Academy” at Western Dubuque High School in Epworth. The annual event is held by the high school, Cascade Junior/Senior High School and Dyersville Area Chamber of Commerce. WD seniors participated in the morning, while Cascade seniors did so in the afternoon.

During the event, students build a budget based on the average salary of a career they selected and whether or not they wanted a cat or dog.

“We’re basically being our parents,” WD senior Emma Ernzen said. “We’re going through what they have to go through.”

Karla Thompson, executive director of the Dyersville chamber, assigned students guidelines as to what their lives might look like when they are 27 years old, designating factors such as such a marital status, credit score, student loan amount and number of children.

“It’s a great opportunity to give those seniors a first view of what they’re going to expect when they grow up,” Thompson said.

Event participants took balance sheets to booths set up at Western Dubuque High School. Each booth — run by a business owner or volunteer — represented a different expense students needed to pay, such as housing, child care, utilities and health insurance.

Students also dealt with unexpected expenses. A nurse walking around the gym informed some students they had sustained a sudden injury and needed to pay a medical bill.

The Dyersville Police Department also handed out tickets for speeding and drunk driving. Students then had to speak with a “judge,” pay fines and possibly be sentenced to jail or community service.

“It’s been pretty eye-opening for them, how much it costs,” said Dyersville Police Assistant Chief Molly Dupont. “A lot of them are shocked at how much a common arrest costs on top of jail time or community service.”

WD senior Leah Digman said the academy gave her a real look at her parents’ lives.

“I’m a high school teacher (for the event), and both of my parents are high school teachers, too,” she said.

Digman said the academy helped her see the daily expenses she can expect in the future, noting that the credit score she received made it difficult at times when she looked for housing and a car.

Meanwhile, WD senior Alex Burds said he had an easy time maintaining his budget, as his career field was corporate finance.

“I’m winning at life,” he said. “I’ve been nothing but lucky, but it’s expensive.”

WD senior Nathan Althaus also said he was lucky not to face any steep expenses, but that the academy was important for him and his classmates.

“It’s good to actually think about this before we go to college, because it’ll be the first time we have to pay for things ourselves,” he said.