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Mock paychecks teach real life skills to kids at Monroeville's Spectrum Charter School

Dillon Carr
| Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, 3:15 p.m.
Students at Spectrum Charter School browse the annual Holiday Shop where they can spend mock currency they earned in a transition class.
Dillon Carr | Tribune-Review
Students at Spectrum Charter School browse the annual Holiday Shop where they can spend mock currency they earned in a transition class.

Students at Monroeville's Spectrum Charter School spent the year earning paychecks by volunteering and learning how to budget their money so they could spend it wisely.

The 32 students all have some level of autism and were taking part in a transition class geared to teach them life skills they can use upon graduation.

As part of the class, students volunteer with their peers at organizations around the region — some logging as many as 400 hours of work — and receive mock paychecks for their work every other week. The paychecks show deductions and provide students the shock of learning the difference between gross and take-home pay.

"We make it as realistic as possible," teacher Cas Hruska said. "They see where all the taxes go out, just as they would on a typical paycheck."

Once a month, tables of donated goods are set up in the school gym and students can spend the money they earned on gifts for themselves, friends or family. Or they can choose not to spend. The process gives the students a chance to learn how to successfully budget money they earn.

"Part of giving them that very real experience is, 'wait a minute, I thought I was earning $10 an hour,' and you see the paycheck and you're realizing it's not quite that," said Principal Jenni Schurr.

CEO Michelle Johnson said the school's small class sizes allow the four teachers to individualize lessons.

"We fill a niche for students that don't do well in traditional schools, the ones who are no longer learning. We get who they are and what they're about," Johnson said.

Schurr said that's why she is confident that students who graduate are equipped once they enter into the workforce or head to college.

"The reality is there continues to be barriers that they will face, but do I feel that we've given them all the tools that we possibly can," Schurr said.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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