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Economics for Success offers Hastings students glimpse into 'real world'

Hastings High School senior volunteer Jami McTague helps Travis Frias balance his "needs and wants" on his income chart. (Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn)1 / 3
Megan Boche (left) and Kaitlyn Shingledecker are all smiles as they balance their monthly budgets. (Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn)2 / 3
Hastings High School senior volunteer Sarah Zeien uses a PowerPoint presentation to introduce the Economics for Success topic to the middle school students. (Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn)3 / 3

They are just barely in a new school setting, learning how to adjust to hundreds of other students and a very large school building. Fitting right into this structure of learning what is outside the four walls for sixth- grade students at Hastings Middle School is the Junior Achievement's Economics for Success program.

This is the first year of this particular Junior Achievement program at the middle school. Different components of Junior Achievement have been under way at the elementary schools and Hastings High School for several years. Former Hastings economics teacher Jim Minder has been instrumental in bringing the program back to the schools here.

Economics for Success fits very well as part of the U in the middle program at the middle school, lead teacher Cheryl Fitzgerald-McNelis said.

"The U in the Middle Program is a result of the transitioning which occurred here, when the fifth grade became an integral part of the middle school," she said. "What they are learning is relevant to them, such as bullying and harassment, study skills, technology and they learn how to use the media center.

"For many kids they are thinking of their future. What is their goal after they leave Hastings - college, technical school or immediately joining the job force?"

The Economics for Success Program is a six-week program - there is a different topic each week - which provides practical information about personal finance and the importance of identifying education and career goals based on a student's skills, interests and values. It also demonstrates the economic benefits of staying in school.

The volunteers teaching the program are in Mary Jo Myers' advanced economics class at Hastings High School.

"They prepared for the lessons by meeting with Jim Minder (regional representative) and JA representatives for two hours and then researched the concepts," said Myers. "For the most part it was on their own. All the students who have participated have really enjoyed working with the middle school students, they see it as an opportunity to reach out and give back as well as learning to teach."

One student is Sarah Zeien, who teamed with Jami McTague last Tuesday as the students in Jeff Hoffman's U in the middle class learned about "balancing" - needs versus wants.

"I just thought this would be fun," said Zeien.

Several parents, including David Welshons, Richard Welshons, Bob Wise and Mary Welch, have also volunteered at the middle school.

Each sixth-grade student was randomly given an occupation card, listing the potential gross and net income per month. Each then had to balance their budget, spending a certain amount for rent, clothing and food.

They learned that some occupations are not high income, but some are. But to achieve the higher income, it would require additional school and training.