A Day In The Life

MTC Poverty Simulation Shows Real-Life Problems

Posted: April 27, 2013

Cpl. Kevin Dofflemyer of the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office checks for stolen property from nursing student Megan Cash during a poverty simulation that Massanutten Technical Center students took part in Thursday. (Photos by Holly Marcus / Special to the DN-R)
MTC students role-play to learn about unemployment, paying rent and other aspects of life facing those living in poverty during a simulation at the school Thursday.
Turner Ashby senior Kenneth Coppola tries to cash a check at “the bank” during a poverty simulation that MTC students participated in Thursday.
HARRISONBURG — Massanutten Technical Center students may have just been acting out a poverty simulation Thursday, but as organizers emphasized, the situations presented to them were very real.
Each student opened a packet of information about their pretend income, children and their employment status. Some students were single mothers, homeless or retirees and all were struggling to live within their means.
“This is not made up,” said Cristin Sprenger, an extension agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension. “This is based on real stories.”
Armed with fake money, Social Security cards, employment applications and transportation passes, students went from booth to booth in a room at MTC Thursday to pay bills, pawn items, cash checks or apply for food stamps.
While the simulation proved to be a real world skills check, the purpose of the event was to help students in certain programs of study see what it is like to live in poverty.
As criminal justice, practical nursing, health or restaurant careers students, they will likely need to be able to relate to people from all walks of life once they begin working, said Lauren Mullen, health occupations director at MTC.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 46.2 million people in the United States were living in poverty in 2011. That accounts for 15 percent of the population.
“A lot of the students come from poverty or they’ll be dealing with people who do,” Mullen said. “It helps them become more culturally sensitive.”
Added Sprenger: “If you don’t come from a family that has had to deal with this issue, you might not understand.”
Partners Desiree Stuart, a Spotswood High School student, and Ruth Borodin, a Turner Ashby High School graduate, both 18, quickly found that playing their parts in a simulation was harder than they thought.
“When they told us [about the simulation], I thought that it would be easy,” Borodin said.
Added Stuart: “I’m learning that it’s really hard.”
The kits for the activity were purchased with two $1,000 grants from the Blue Ridge Community College Pathways Consortium and the Rockingham County Educational Foundation Inc. This is the first time MTC has done the simulation, and it plans to reuse the materials for years to come.
Within an hour, students were catching on to the day’s purpose.
“I wanted to see what they struggle with,” said Gary Shull, 18, of Harrisonburg. “You struggle a lot and you have to pinch pennies.”
Added Shiranna Long, 17, of Keezletown: “I’ll be able to look at people and understand where they come from.”
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or esharrer@dnronline.com

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