Last week more than 700 high school seniors poured into Flathead Valley Community College to learn about life – real life, with all of its opportunities, difficult decisions and, yes, bills.
At the inaugural “Planning Your Dream” seminar on Oct. 10, seniors from Flathead and Glacier high schools, along with Laser School and Bridge Academy students, learned about managing personal finances, choosing the appropriate profession and leaving a good first impression on employers, among many other practical lessons. They weren’t given ultimatums; they were given options and, furthermore, suggestions on how to deal with those options.
High school will be over next spring. What do these 17- and 18-year-olds need to know to be ready?
“We felt like we really need to look at Life 101,” said DeAnn Thomas, the director of both Flathead and Glacier high schools’ career centers. “It’s not just, ‘What college are you going to?’”
She added: “We want to really light up the idea for students that what you’re doing right now is going to set the stage for your next five to 10 years.”
The reality is many kids won’t attend a four-year university. And even the ones who do will still need to know how to cope with the rest of life’s challenges. It’s a fresh approach to an old concept – make a career fair relevant to everybody, not just college- or military-bound kids, and provide tangible examples of what’s around the corner. Glacier senior Kristen Smith stepped out of a class about money management and looked at a handout that detailed the expenses she’ll likely face once she moves out of her parents’ house.
“I was just blown away,” Smith said.
Smith and her friend Stephanie Stein discussed their morning classes over lunch in the foyer of FVCC’s Arts and Technology Building. Their conversation was far from typical high school chitchat. Stein weighed the merits of following her dreams with the reality of paying bills. Glancing at the expense handout from her money management class, she felt comfortable with her current plans: Go to the Great Falls College of Technology, get a degree in dental hygiene and land a job that enables her to stay in Montana.
“It definitely wakes you up,” Stein said of learning about her future financial realities.
Students filled out a questionnaire three weeks prior to the seminar that narrowed down their interests. From the questionnaire, students were then given lists of appropriate classes to attend at the conference. Along with a series of speeches by Will Schmautz of Nomad Technologies and keynote speaker Frank Garner, Kalispell’s ex-chief of police and a former military consultant, 18 classes were offered. They included courses about how to pay for college, encouraging community involvement and long-term planning.
All seniors from Flathead and Glacier were required to attend. There are roughly 340 seniors at Flathead and 335 at Glacier. Laser and Bridge sent 63 students.
Garner and Schmautz both have Flathead roots, which Thomas emphasized when discussing the ways the speakers could reach out to the students. They are both successful businessmen, proving, Thomas said, that people don’t have to leave the state to find solid jobs.
Thomas said the seminar, which she plans to hold annually from now on, was challenging to organize. She compared it to professional conferences, but without a big budget. She thanked the three sponsors: Whitefish Credit Union, FVCC and Northwest Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. The instructors and speakers all volunteered. Without the sponsorship and volunteers, Thomas said it would have been impossible to hold the event with the school district’s existing budget.
Organizers were also tasked with rounding up more than 700 teenagers on the verge of adulthood and making sure they stuck to the schedule.
“It’s monumental,” Thomas said. “It’s a community effort.”
Arica Avila, a senior at Glacier, attended a class dedicated to careers in medicine. Considering her aspirations for a medical career, the course was fitting. Jon Hammett, a fellow Glacier senior, took a course that discussed the qualities employers look for when hiring. Hammett, who has filled out resumes before, said he learned a few subtle tricks he can incorporate to not only improve his resume, but also his overall appearance in front of an employer.
Smith feels the conference helped her prepare for post-high school life, which will begin at the University of Montana next year.
“This is good because I know what to expect,” Smith said. “I won’t just go stumbling all excited into this ‘Brave New World’ and then see all my dreams come crashing down.”
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