Imagine the critical aspects of an adult life — your occupation, family situation, and all the unexpected circumstances and learning experiences — encapsulated into a handful of hours over the course of half a school day.
Bret Harte High School seniors did just that, a simulation of an adult life, with some finding love and prosperity, and others finding repeated hardships.
The exposure provided them with a helpful and educational glimpse into their futures, they said.
“If we stay in Calaveras then we have these connections with people here and the people who can help us,” Bret Harte High School senior Sklyer Foust, 18, said.
Students, organized into groups of three to represent a single facsimile life, wandered throughout the booths and kiosks at Dorroh Field to interact with services they will inevitably utilize when they come of age, including Cal-Waste, the Calaveras County Water District and the DMV.
Guided by their assigned circumstances, the students were forced to find something to eat at The Resource Connection food bank, or seek out employment with Mother Lode Job Training, the United States Marine Corps or Pinnell’s Carpet One.
For many of the students, those assigned circumstances were an insight into lives they hoped they would never personally experience.
Foust, along with her group members Nicholas Klotz, 18, and Brandon Calhoun, 18, were identified as 25 years old with a 10-year-old child and a night job as a housekeeper. After a mock interview with a carpet installer to improve their financial circumstances, the group visited a spinning wheel to draw a chance card and be assigned an additional life event.
On the first spin, the group earned a charge for misdemeanor drug possession and had to seek out a public defender, followed by probation and counseling services. On the next spin, their appendix burst, and they had to seek out welfare services after finding out that they could not afford insurance coverage.
Despite the frequent struggles, each praised the interactive nature of the project to communicate with previously unknown agencies and representatives.
“You’re actually doing it yourself as if it’s actually happening to you,” Calhoun said.
“I think it’s good to get a practical example of how there are universal services out there,” added Klotz.
The inclusion of the unsavory circumstances was intentional, said program coordinator and Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce CEO Stacy Johnston, to keep students “on the right track” and to consider the total repercussions of specific life events.
“We want to expose them before they might actually need the service,” she said. “We can equip them and empower them with some of those skills when they are on their life journey.”
By reducing a life into a single day, she added, the students not only learn necessary life skills, but also an awareness of what others have to experience in their own lives.
“I would hope they would walk way with local resources and the tools to maneuver through what life hands them,” she said.
And for many of the students, the awareness of struggle taught compassion for those less fortunate than others.
Bret Harte High School seniors Inderpal Dhaliwal, 18, Devin Baymiller, 17, and Isabel Hernandez, 17, were living out the experience of a 24-year-old homeless person in need of job and owning a vehicle with expired registration tags.
“It teaches us if we are in certain scenarios, how we are going to get out of it,” Dhaliwal said. “There’s help out there if you really need it and a lot of programs out there for people.”
“This can help us so we don't get to that point,” Hernandez added.
Following the completion of that assigned circumstance, the students were offered a chance at a more promising circumstance of marriage.
Through the day, the students gathered business cards and took notes in three ring binders about their interactions with the industry representatives. In order to receive certificates, the students were required to show complete participation in the program by interacting with each of the more than 20 booths.
For the vendors and representatives, participation in the event allowed an opportunity for a practical education in civic participation and other critical life skills that students may not be aware of.
Kelly Robinson of Sonora Ford and Subaru noted how few of the students realized that their credit rating would critically affect their eligibility for a car loan.
“We’re looking for stability, job hoppers, verifiable income,” he said. A poor credit rating, he said, could mean a prospective buyer pays more then $10,000 dollars more than another for the exact same car.
“We try to educate them on what the financial world looks like,” he said.
Calaveras Business Resource Center Business Outreach Specialist Michelle Stevens also impressed upon students that free services were available to entrepreneurs who were starting their own businesses, she said.
The same “On the Right Track” event will be held at Calaveras High School on May 31, Johnston said.