LARNED — Eighth-graders from eight area schools gathered in Larned Middle School gymnasium Wednesday to experience life as a 26-year-old adult.
There was the mayhem that accompanies the program as students scrambled among the dozen booths attempting to keep their program checkbooks from hitting zero.
There were additional, more introspective, learning opportunities as students came face-to-face with volunteers sharing their insights in real-world discussions.
Lastly, the students recapped their experience in a final “debriefing session,” where they shared observations with adult coordinators.
Students from Otis-Bison, St. Joseph in Ellinwood, Kinsley, Pawnee Heights, Central Plains and Hoisington spent the first part of the day in the gym, moving from station to station to pay for insurance, the car of their choice, the house of their choice, a cellphone plan, entertainment and jobs. Larned and Hoisington had multiple student groups.
There was a booth for unexpected life events, such as a broken leg. There was also a booth that offered extra money through a sign-up for a second job.
Breakout sessions featured presentations with local volunteers, where topics included the cost of delinquency, the reality of high school, banking and finance, job interviewing and the reality after high school.
The program is sponsored by United Way of Central Kansas with assistance from local businesses and agencies. It is intended to be hosted by each participating school in their turn.
The program is facilitated by the Pando Initiative in Wichita, and Patrick Sehl, Pando’s Reality U director.
Buffalo or cow?
As part of their wrap-up session after the gym exercise, the students had a chance to evaluate their experience as well as a chance to hear from someone who has had to meet adult life head-on.
Lucia Hagerman, a 16-year science instructor at LMS, has personal experience dealing with how bad choices rooted in a poor self-image can lead teenagers into a perfect storm.
When Hagerman was in junior high, she used school as an escape from a dysfunctional upbringing, but by 11th grade, her grades had fallen to near-failing; she was smoking marijuana and made three attempts at suicide.
As most of her classmates had graduated with plans to attend college, she was an unwed mother with no resources at age 20.
But step-by-step, she overcame obstacles, finding inspiration to become a teacher. Along the way, she found people she could trust and depend on.
On Wednesday, as she related her personal experiences, she asked the gathered students whether they’d rather be a buffalo or a cow.
She explained that buffaloes, when they are faced with an oncoming thunderstorm, will run toward it, while a herd of cows, facing the same, will run away.
The connecting aspect, she said, was that no one wants to be in a storm. “Unfortunately, middle school has storms like that, and high school has storms like that,” she said.
“The last thing that you’d want to do is spend time in that storm. But when buffaloes run toward a storm, they actually spend less time in it because of that. Cows, in running away, they prolong it because it keeps catching up with them.
“I know that it takes incredible courage to face a storm. I know that for some of you, school is your storm. Or home is your storm. But if you just shut down and say you don’t want to deal any more, you are running away from the storm.
“I know it sounds insane, but it is better to face the storm than to run away.”