ELLSWORTH, MICHIGAN – Ellsworth Community School high school students have just completed the first semester of a new elective course geared towards the teaching of essential real world skills. The new elective class, “Life Skills,” comes as a direct request from students for having more elective opportunities built into the high school schedule.
At the end of the previous school year ECS superintendent/principal, Aaron Gaffney, met with every student in grades 6-12 to gather input and suggestions for improving the school experience in Ellsworth. “Among many suggestions for improvements was the expressed desire for more elective opportunities,” said Gaffney. “One of the specific requests students made was for a class that taught them daily living skills such as balancing a checkbook, changing the oil in a car, cooking, and basic sewing skills.” As a result of the students’ request, ECS built a new elective course option for high school students called Life Skills.
The new class is being taught by English teacher and ECS alum, Amanda Terryberry. “It has been eye opening to teach a Life Skills class,” said Mrs. Terryberry. “At the beginning of the semester, I had a list of ideas that I thought were skills that the students would want to learn. I was surprised to find out that some of the skills they wanted to learn were quite different from what I planned to cover.” According to Mrs. Terryberry, the high school students wanted to learn skills such as how to make an appointment, remove a stain, read a contract, and dress professionally. “With the help of the community, I’ve been able to chip away at their list and hopefully we will have a chance to learn all of the things they asked for.”
Students have been extremely appreciative of the skills and lessons being taught in the class. “I’ve learned so much already,” said ECS junior, Ana Oviedo. “From how to pay my bills to everything that comes with saving.” Fellow ECS junior Atlas Marlatt echoed Ana’s feelings. “This year ‘Life Skills’ has taught me, and is continuing to teach me, about real world situations.”
In addition to student requests, students have spent time in the bus garage learning to change the oil in a car under the guidance of ECS Transportation Director, Larry Essenberg, learned to can jam and salsa at the Banks Township Hall, and observed the voting process on election day.
“This class would not be successful without the assistance of the community,” stressed Mrs. Terryberry. “Larry Essenberg shared his knowledge on how to change the oil in a car. Rose McPherson gave the students the opportunity to make salsa and use a canner to preserve it. Louise Alfred has worked with the students on goal setting and preparing for life after high school. Not only are the students learning valuable skills, they are also making connections with people from the community.”
One of the main projects and experiences planned for the second semester involves childcare. Thanks to a previous grant received by Mrs. Terryberry the class was able to purchase a “real-care baby” from Realityworks, a company that specializes in creating innovative learning tools for teaching real world skills. The real-care baby is a life-like infant simulator. The baby is programmed to cry, need it’s diaper changed, and be fed, in addition to many other infant activities. Each student in the class will have the opportunity to take the baby home, and carry it with them in school, for three days during the second semester. “Mr. Gaffney and I are excited students will have the opportunity to interact with the real-care baby as a part of the Life Skills curriculum,” indicated Mrs. Terryberry. “It represents another great opportunity for students to learn some of the many skills needed to be an adult.”
In regards to the overall curriculum, Gaffney shared that Life Skills has been an extremely positive addition to the school’s offerings. “Often because of state and national curriculum requirements we as educators become too focused on college prep types of classes. I’m thankful that students expressed their desire for elective opportunities that focus more on real-world skills.” The class is already starting to pay dividends for the students of ECS. “I felt very unprepared for the real world, but now I feel more confident in my future,” said Ana Oviedo. ECS is hopeful that it will be able to continue even more student generated elective opportunities in the future.