From Jared Schott: Babies, Taxes, and Personal Finances

It’s 7:55 a.m. on Tuesday morning. An 8th grader leans into my office door to ask if my advisee has arrived at school because they have to go “get the baby.” A few minutes later, Katie Goldman “delivers” a baby for another one of my advisees who is running a few minutes late. Raising children takes a village, so two of my 7th graders spring into action, listening for signs that the baby needs their attention. Shortly thereafter – a slight coo, then a gentle cry – the baby is ready for their morning bottle. While the 7th graders, who watched older siblings manage this project, sooth the highly sensitive, computerized infant, the rest of us scan the doorway, hoping the real parent will join us soon. The RealCare Baby project has begun!

For four days, each 8th grader becomes a parent, responsible for the RealCare baby as part of a signature math and science unit. The unit creates both excitement and dread. It’s challenging enough to manage the day-to-day life in middle school. The babies help students understand the complexities of personal responsibility when caring for others. As 8th graders manage diapers, bottles, and burping needs of their newborns, they are also taking tests, joining book club discussions, participating in sports practices, and managing their social lives. And while some create Instagram accounts to chronicle their experience, others just count down the days until they can return their babies. Later that day, I see a baby is left alone in the hallway. Quickly an out-of-breath 8th grade student sprints to retrieve their forgotten child.

As part of their Algebra class, students examine census data on gender, education, race, socio-economic levels, and geography. They discuss the normal distribution of wealth in Rhode Island. Based on the data, salaries and education levels are randomly assigned. Conversations immediately begin about retirement savings, social security, and the tax implications of their salaries. As they learn to complete their own 1040, students share strong emotional reactions at the complexity of the income tax process and tax code.

In a study hall, students ask, “Wait, how can I get the tax credit? Where do you find Form 8812?” Just as one student seeks counsel from a classmate, their baby wails and needs a diaper change. The students don’t blink; care is given without drama. The cries are just part of the ambiance of this impromptu tax office. They search online for the form and get started on the worksheet, hoping to qualify for the credit.

Once taxes are complete, the students will also find housing in Providence, health insurance, child care, transportation, and utilities. The combination of working with partners, selflessly responding to the needs of others, understanding personal finances, and completing their various daily work helps our students build resilience, appreciation, and a new sense of responsibility.

Jared Schott
Head of Middle School