Faith Linden (left) and Taya Howard laugh as they read slips of paper with unexpected events during the Envision the Future program at the Porter County Expo Center in Valparaiso. The girls attend Victory Christian Academy. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
For more on what’s offered by the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, go to www.valparaisochamber.org, or call 462-1105.
Updated: April 19, 2013 6:07AM
Oh, the surprises of the adult world, like paying for childcare, or getting laid off.
About 1,000 eighth-grade students from middle schools throughout Porter County learned a few real-life lessons — some pleasant, some less so — during the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Envision the Future” program, held March 12 at the Porter County Expo Center.
The program has been a staple for eighth-graders for 15 years, and also includes volunteers from the business community. This year, about 120 people pitched in to staff booths for the “Reality Store,” as students made their way from station to station and imagined what life would be like by the time they’re 28.
“They pay taxes just like normal people do,” said Carol Schultz, a retired Boone Grove Middle School teacher, who staffed the first booth, where students paid taxes.
She brought her students to the program when she was still teaching and decided it was such a great opportunity, she’d volunteer. Students took a career inventory test and selected a job before the program, and already had a budget in hand when they arrived.
“For some, it’s a real eye-opener. They don’t expect childcare expenses,” Schultz said, adding a debriefing after the program revealed students didn’t know how many expenses their parents had. “Most kids don’t realize that.”
The unexpected events booth provided the most surprises. Students could win the lottery, or lose their jobs. Kaitlyn Wright, 14, a student at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Valparaiso, found out she was getting a $2,500 tax return.
She went through the paces as a surgeon — a career interest — and also faced student loans of $852 a month. Kaitlyn said she learned how expensive everything could be.
“I knew childcare was expensive. I didn’t know it was that expensive,” she said.
Rhiannon Kaminski, 14, also a student at Jefferson Middle School, lost her job as a concert promoter and was sent to the education, employment and training booth. There, Kris Parker, an economics and community development educator with Porter County’s Purdue Extension Office, offered counseling on cutting expenses and returning to school to get another job.
“It teaches us what real life is like,” Rhiannon said, adding the biggest surprise in the exercise was “that I lost my job. That was upsetting.”