Life, Here They Come: ESU 17 event gives sophomores in The Sandhills real-world simulations

Life, Here They Come: ESU 17 event gives sophomores in The Sandhills real-world simulations


By Tyler Dahlgren

Life has in its repertoire an array of knee-buckling curveballs, and though that’s precisely the lesson organizers behind ESU 17’s “An Intro to Life” wanted to pass along to the approximately 140 area sophomores in attendance, they weren’t exactly expecting another reminder themselves.

High winds swept snow across The Sandhills on Wednesday morning, throwing a potential wrench in their plans. The team behind “An Intro to Life”, which was planned in 2019 and originally scheduled for March 25, 2020, are no strangers to pivots, but luckily the roads were cleared up in time and the event, at last, was held. Only one district was unable to make the trip.

“We worked on this for several years and had a vision in our heads what it would look like,” said Valentine business teacher Janet Shelbourn. “We’ll know more by the end of today how things went and how we can make it better, but we’re just so excited to finally be here and to see this idea come to life.”

Shelbourn was one of a handful of area business teachers who pieced the event together during allotted PLA (professional learning) time with colleagues through ESU 17. The idea for “An Intro to Life” stemmed from a similar event held in Oklahoma’s Yukon Public Schools, which peaked the group’s interest one day back in 2019.

“At that point in time, Personal Finance wasn’t a required class for students, so we thought this would be a great way to encourage kids to look seriously at that class and other business courses,” said Alana Cardinal, who also teaches business at Valentine.

The event was on the cutting edge of innovative, an interactive simulation that brought tons of community businesses and volunteers to the Cherry County Fairgrounds for five hours of situational skill-building. There were stations set up across the 4-H Building, each manned by a professional who shared their expertise throughout the day in areas all adults wish they’d been introduced to sooner than they were.

Groceries. Thank you notes. Petcare. Childcare. Banking. Automotive. Interviewing. Transportation. Clothing. Grocery shopping. You name it, these sophomores lived it on Wednesday.

“Our underlying hope is that the students will leave here with a deeper understanding about the budget process and how even the most laid out plans can be altered by life events,” said Finney. “Life events that are sometimes both unexpected and unavoidable.”

Real law enforcement officers spent the day on “patrol”, stopping students to help with a blown tire or to issue tickets for minor traffic infractions, though these sophomore hypothetical speeders were always met with a lighthearted smile.

“So a student may have his budget pretty well laid out and then have their car hailed on or have their brakes go out,” said Finney. “They’re learning to realize that we all have to be planners, but sometimes life makes us adjust those plans.”

Fortunately, every single business that had initially agreed to participate back before the pandemic stayed loyal to their commitment. That was no surprise to Finney or any of the other organizers. In this part of the state, community support is essential and abundant.

“We’re really blessed to have the community support we do all across this area,” said Cardinal. “They have really showed up today to help us and our students. The Sandhills Area Foundation gave us the money to purchase the Clifton strengths books and tests. Sandhills State Bank provided lunch and the Valentine FBLA pitched in $500. We just had a bunch of groups step up to make this possible.”

In addition to Local Business Community Builders, students heard from Alyse Pflanz (UNK/Nebraska Council on Economic Education), Wells Fargo and Gallup Certified Strength Coaches from the UNL-Extension office.

“We wanted them to learn a little bit about themselves, too,” said Thedford business teacher Jamie Taylor. “We wanted to tie the Clifton strengths in there to help with that. They’ve still got a couple more years in school, so this is a great opportunity for them to be able to take classes that will help them in their future. The more we can explain how budgeting is so important, the better it is for them.”

There was intention and logic behind gearing the event towards sophomores, said Cardinal.

“We thought this was the perfect age, where they’ve had a year of high school and their maturity has grown, they’re driving now and many of them have jobs and more independence and responsibilities,” Cardinal continues. “It’s a great time to introduce them to this content, so that they’ll look at business classes for their junior and senior years.”

Valentine sophomore Jonathan Kruger has recently started budgeting, and felt Wednesday’s event came at just the right time. He’ll be graduating before he knows it, he said, and will feel more comfortable entering the real world with this knowledge at his disposal.

“This is really helpful because there’s actual professionals who deal with these different situations we’re being put in here every single day,” Kruger said. “Plus, I’m a hands-on learner, so this is really helpful for me to learn in this kind of environment.”

It didn’t take students long to realize that the road of life is riddled with plenty of challenges. While the room buzzed with excitement, there were a few audible groans and animated eye-rolls amongst the laughs by mid-morning. Lessons learned the hard way.

“I have learned that you shouldn’t always buy the biggest and best things,” Ainsworth Brianna Fernau chuckled while looking at her sheet. “It’s not always worth it.”

Every decision made at the Cherry County Fairgrounds on Wednesday came with ripples.

“I’ve learned that buying a house really has an effect on what type of vehicle you can afford,” said Ainsworth student Cheyenne Temple. “When those decisions impact your own personal wealth, you think about them more carefully.”

Because personal finance education skipped an entire generations of Americans, the country has become financially illiterate, said Cardinal. NDE recently passed personal finance requirements, and events like “An Intro to Life” are solid steps to reversing that tide.

“We want to provide financial education for this next generation to build our community and our nation,” said Cardinal. “We want them to look ahead, to stretch."

To not only prepare for the future, but to embrace it.

Life, here they come.