Students get crash course in adulthood

Ola Middle School eighth-graders returned from their Life 101 Project, knowing a new reality their adult parents routinely live.

"The most shocking thing for me was the house and the car — everything that my kids had to have to live was really expensive," concluded Courtney Schaefer, who recently took part in a class project designed to help her, and other students, understand personal finances.

The purpose of the project is to build career awareness and inform students of how their academic skills and career interests impact them in real life, according to Ola's Eighth-Grade School Counselor Ayanna Echols.

Echols said some 400 eighth-graders made important connections, this month, between short-term and long-term goals, and the impact of good decision-making on future careers.

The school counselor said the project called for students like 14-year-old Schaefer to be introduced to different professions, and play adult roles in life situations they had to manage. On Feb. 4, the students were given different careers and lives to play out, said Echols. Each of them was given the average monthly pay for their respective careers in Georgia, and were told to go to some of the 16 different booths set up in the school gymnasium.

Each booth represented a service, such as "housing, travel, legal, transportation, medical, insurance, and life's unexpected –– just to name a few," Echols said. "At each booth, students will purchase a service that will be deducted from their monthly pay. Through this format, students gain real-world experience."

Schaefer's role was that of a music educator, and single mother of four. She had received a pretend music scholarship to a four-year college, where she earned a degree in music education.

"It shocked me how little teachers get paid, and how much it takes to take care of four kids, or any kids at all," the teenager said. "Before I went to the event, I was excited, because I always wanted to know what it would be like to have a teaching career... until I got my four kids. They're too expensive!"

Schaefer acknowledged she is from a blended family.

"I feel bad that my parents had to spend so much money," she said. "It's definitely taught me to be more responsible with my money. Because, if I don't start saving up now, I'll have problems in the future. It's taught me not to go over board."

Schaefer said she encountered several problems in the Life 101 Project, regarding her finances. "the end of the activity, I was in debt $400, after a $2,000 loan, and a second job," she lamented.

Schaefer said she's found a new respect for her teachers, and will continue to pursue the possibilities in teaching one day. "I still love teaching," she continued. "I've always loved school, and I love coming to school. I'm very thankful that I have someone that is willing to come out and teach me."

The school counselor, Echols, said she believes students responded well to the exercise. "We will definitely do this again next year," said Echols. "Our teachers really bought into this. The Ola Middle School faculty, staff, and I have absolutely enjoyed watching our eighth-grade students progress towards adulthood."