On any other day, Jacob Noll is a junior at Union Grove High School, going to classes, studying, hanging out with his friends and generally doing what most regular High School students do. On Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 however, he found the circumstances in his life had changed quite dramatically thanks to “MyLIFE” (My Local Interactive Financial Education) a financial literacy program developed by Community State Bank and U.G.H.S. As a MyLIFE participant, Jacob found himself a divorced father of three, struggling to pay the bills and juggle a full-time job as a firefighter.
All Union Grove High School Juniors attended the inaugural MyLIFE program. Each student was presented with a folder that contained his or her new, randomly assigned, “life”. Each “life” included: an occupation, marital status, spouse’s occupation, annual salary, number of dependents, child support (when required), pets, education, student loans, credit card debt, health insurance coverage and credit score. Every student was thrust into an imaginary life with real-world problems, challenges and solutions.
As the students made their way through the MyLIFE experience, they were required to manage a complete monthly budget including: a place to live, insurance (health, life, auto, homeowner’s) groceries, transportation, gas and repairs for their cars, child support, even heath emergencies and other unexpected expenses. With help from local businesses, volunteers, and U.G.H.S. staff, students moved from station to station in the high school gym, navigating the MyLIFE program. “I think the most surprising thing about my day was all of the expenses you don’t think about,” said Noll. “Groceries, gas for your car. I even had to pay more for my condo because of my credit score.”
Dave Pettit, a member of the MyLIFE Development Team and a teacher at U.G.H.S. thought the program provided the students with a unique learning opportunity. “The students took the program really seriously. I think it opened their eyes and gave them a glimpse of the challenges their parents have to deal with when it comes to managing a budget.”
The MyLIFE program originated at Community State Bank and was presented to a group of educators at U.G.H.S. by Commercial Banking Officer Neil Buchanan, and Marketing Director Jeff Nielsen. After seeing and experiencing a similar program at Tremper High School in Kenosha, Nielsen and Buchanan set out to create “MyLIFE”. “MyLIFE is an interactive program for students designed to demonstrate the importance of sound money management skills,” stated Buchanan. “ It’s a unique learning experience and an opportunity to promote a partnership between the local business community and the High School.”
The MyLIFE Development Team included U.G.H.S. educators: Wendy Coury, Dave Pettit and Tiffany VandeBogert, along with Buchanan and Nielsen. With a combination of both High School faculty and Community State Bank representatives, the committee was able to develop the MyLIFE experience, schedule the event, recruit business partners and launch the program.
“The logistics of putting together a program like this were quite challenging, but everyone walked away from this experience with a positive, unique perspective,” stated Nielsen. “We’re looking forward to expanding the program, and continuing to strengthen the partnership between educators and the local business community.”