MARQUETTE - Students at Marquette Senior High School talk about many things: Algebra tests they took last hour or reports due in biology tomorrow.
The freshmen, though, are dicussing things of a different nature: mortgages and car payments, food costs and utility bills, child care and credit card statements.
All incoming MSHS freshmen are now required to take a class called Freshman Transition, in which students make a 10-year plan in a three-part series. First, they think about who they are as individuals. Then, they decide what material things they would like to attain. Finally, they choose a career path that fits those desires.
Marquette Senior High School freshmen Nathan Wagner and Hunter Viitala work on their monthly budgets during Becky Simmons’ Freshman Transition class. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Some of the students are in for quite a shock at how disparate those three things can be, said Becky Simmons, a science and Freshman Transition teacher.
"We don't water it down at all," she said. "It can be a really big surprise."
In a presentation to the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency Board of Education, Simmons lauded the program as a reality check for students who may not be thinking about their futures at all.
"It was really different to look ahead 10 years. God knows it's hard to get them to look beyond tomorrow," she said.
Simmons was one of several teachers who attended a teacher training program conducted as a part of the Career Choices Curriculum that the Transition class is a part of.
"We came back on fire," she said.
The Career Choices Curriculum was adopted by the school two years ago.
So far, students in Simmon's Transition class have worked through the first section of the course: "Who Am I?" The textbook and accompanying workbook help students look inside themselves and see what makes them tick. They're asked things like, "My heart pounds with excitement when" and "I lose track of time whenever I am "
Now, students are working through the second phase, "What Do I Want?," which has students making budgets. They look at home prices, car payments, the cost of food monthly and clothing annually, anything and everything that costs money.
As of right now, Simmons said the average monthly expenditures among her students total $10,000, a number she said is "a high goal, but it's doable.
"We try not to crush dreams," Simmons said. "We help students make a plan that's effective."
MSHS freshman Hunter Viitala is one of Simmon's students. She wants to work in the medical field, though she's not sure yet of a specific job. She hopes to own a three-bedroom home with a decent yard, get married, have three kids, own one new car and one used.
Her monthly budget is right on par with many of her classmates: $10,000.
"I was very surprised at first (at the cost)," Viitala said. "Taxes on a home, insurance, I never would have thought it was that much."
Though Viitala said she's a planner by nature, preferring to even plan out her weekends a week in advance, she said the class has been beneficial in that it's teaching her things she would never have thought about otherwise.
Simmons said for some students, the class is centered around things they'd rather not worry about.
"It's a reality check that some don't want to think about," Simmons said. "For others, it empowers them. They see that big number and they say, 'We want that.'"
In the third section of the course, "How Do I Get It?," students will research at least two careers thoroughly, looking at salaries, benefits and other aspects to determine if that's the path they want to follow.
"If you want that big Lincoln Navigator with the cool rims, all right. Let's figure out how to get there," Simmons said.
As a part of the course, students are given access to www.mytenyearplan.com, a website that gives each of them a place to collect their work. From the moment they sign up, the students keep their site for 10 years and are able to go back and make changes accordingly. Though teachers and administrators have access to the students' plans, they cannot change them.
Simmons said the website is a one-stop site for the student to assess their plan and it can also be a great tool for the school's faculty and staff.
"If a student is in trouble, the administration can use (the website) as a way to open the conversation and make it more relevant for (the student)," Simmons said. "If you're doing things that are getting you in trouble, they can say 'Hey, look at what you want to do. Is what you're doing now helping you with that?'"
The implications for the class and its curriculum are far reaching for its students as it helps them learn the lessons that many adults grapple with today.
"I'd like a smallish, two-bedroom home with a small yard, a truck, one kid," said freshman Nathan Wagner, who wants to get into medical engineering. "Child care, that's a lot.
"I was expecting everything to be a little expensive," he added. "Everything costs money."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.