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Life lessons in one hour

Photo by Johnny Jackson 
Students use calculators to compute their monthly budgets during a mock real-life scenario exercise at Dutchtown Middle School in Hampton. The exercise is known as Life 101.

Photo by Johnny Jackson Students use calculators to compute their monthly budgets during a mock real-life scenario exercise at Dutchtown Middle School in Hampton. The exercise is known as Life 101.

Geoffrey Shedd was faced with having to readjust his personal finances as a result of the $50 fine he received for chewing gum.

"I'm losing money for some not-right stuff," said Shedd, as he figured his monthly budget.

The 15-year-old, along with about 340 other eighth-graders at Dutchtown Middle School, was a participant in the school's Life 101 exercise Thursday. The exercise was part of Dutchtown's career education and guidance program, according to Fran Brunn, the school's eighth-grade counselor.

"This program is designed for middle school students, incorporating career exploration, lifestyle choices, and a unique life-skills experience all in one," said Brunn. "Students ... explore the realities of career and finances, in a game setting, exposing the rewards and consequences of critical decision-making as they ‘create' a future."

Several middle schools in the area have been providing similar Life 101 activities to help teach their eighth-grade students the various responsibilities and decisions that await them in adulthood.

At random, students at Dutchtown were assigned different careers and lifestyles, according to Brunn. Some were paid high wages, while others earned lower wages. Some had multiple children and pets, and others had none.

Parent-volunteers, along with some teacher cadets and Air Force JROTC Cadets from Dutchtown High School, were on hand to offer support in the Life 101 activity, held in the school's gymnasium. The volunteers manned 16 different booths which represented one service or another, such as insurance, utilities, transportation, beauty, pet care, entertainment, etc.

Eighth-graders spent about an hour touring Life 101. Brunn said students also were asked to account for "life's unexpected" occurrences, like having a flat tire, or winning the lottery.

"The kids love it," Brunn said. "It's very educational and eye-opening for them to experience real-life scenarios."

Some students, like Shedd, were surprised to learn they were in trouble with the law, in the form of Henry County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Kehoe. Shedd was fined $50, but other students were arrested in the mock real-life activity.

Kehoe said he has visited several middle schools in the area, demonstrating in their Life 101 activities, how unlawful behavior can land students in court or in jail. He said he fined many students for chewing gum and mock-arrested others who drew unexpected situations like "child neglect" or "driving under the influence."

"This is really telling them that we have rules in society," Kehoe said. "And there are consequences to breaking those rules."

Dutchtown parent-volunteer Deborah Crawford said she was thrilled with the activity.

Crawford, an Atlanta paralegal, headed the legal services table at Life 101, and advised students on the costs associated with obtaining legal services.

"It's exciting," said Crawford. "I think it's an awesome idea to try to teach children about balances and the unexpected things that might come up.

"If they understand the reason behind this, yes, they will learn from it," she continued. "You have to learn to be responsible, and this is a great place to do it."