NECAC Reality Enrichment and Life Lessons simulation immerses students in real-life scenarios, emphasizes importance of education and proactive choices

Within 15 minutes, dozens of Monroe City students got a realistic dose of what the future could bring through the North East Missouri Community Action Corporation (NECAC) Reality Enrichment and Life Lessons (REALL) simulations. Seven students paid their rent, two were in jail and four had paid their utility bills in full.

NECAC Macon County Coordinator Terri Laughlin pointed to several booths as she explained the aspects of the REALL simulation to students who carried packets describing various stations in life. Some had continued their education and were gainfully employed, others were unemployed with one or two children and some had been fired from their jobs. NECAC County coordinators and area volunteers helped the students at each booth as they received travel passes, social services, paid monthly bills and performed other tasks. Each 15-minute session represented one week amid a simulation emphasizing the importance of staying in school and making proactive decisions.

“Remember, this is not a game,” she told the students. “This is your life, the new life you took on when you entered the room.”

Sophomore Logan Lucas agreed as he went participated in the first week.

“I think it's opening a reality to what the world actually is — it's not all fun and games where you can do whatever you want — there's always hardships, there's always troubles, you've got to get through them. I'm just starting out, but I found it a good experience,” he said.

Lucas said he had a daughter and a son who was seeking social services as he experienced the first week of the simulation. The afternoon reinforced what Lucas felt he needed to do for the future.

“I hope it brings a positive outcome on everyone here,” he said. “It shows if you go to school and you try hard, you can succeed.”

Laughlin said the program has been expanding in NECAC's 12-county coverage area. Simulations are planned for Mark Twain Senior High School in Center and La Plata High School next week. She said the simulation provides each student with a realistic idea of what life might be like in the road — why it's crucial to make proactive choices and what the consequences might be for students who drop out of school.

Desiree Antonio, NECAC Warren County coordinator, and Chandra Roberts, NECAC Pike County coordinator, worked with Monroe City United Methodist Church Pastor Olivia Earlywine to assist students with aspects like finding jobs based on their education and other factors, ensuring that they receive paychecks based on their ability to arrive at work regularly and on time and hiring and firing employees based on their performance. NECAC Marion County Coordinator Gwen Koch emphasized what students' choices could mean for their futures.

“This particular simulation is meant to be a dropout prevention simulation, so they understand how important their education is,” she said. Sophomore Matthew Barnes shared his experience as he sat down in the employment simulation.

“I think a lot of people don't really understand that one little thing now — years later can set you back a lot compared to others,” he said. “I think this has really helped. If you work hard now, you can do better later.”

Fellow sophomore Avery Hirner agreed that making forward-thinking choices and staying in school are keys to a successful future. In her simulation, she had dropped out of school and didn't continue her education. Avery had two children, and she pointed with surprise to the utility and rent payments in her packet.

“I personally would go through with continuing school to get a great job, to pay to take care of myself — and if I were to have babies, take care of them, too,” she said.

trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com