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Lessons for life

A new state-required course has District 833 Alternative Learning Center students learning what it takes for them to live on their own in this new century.

They also got an eye-opening look at how the Friends in Need Food Shelf and the Stone Soup Thrift Shop are filling needs for people at the margins of our society.

This year, high school students are no longer required to pass a class in sociology to graduate. It has been replaced with economics to help young adults understand how America's economy works.

Learning Center Teacher Cindy Schroeder is teaching the first year of economics to ALC students.

Students come to ALC mainly because, as Park and Woodbury high school students, they were failing classes and too far behind to catch up in the traditional school model. Admission is not automatic. Interviews are held with parents, the student and teachers.

Taking into account the new economics class should be relevant to ALC students, Schroeder, alongside lessons, assigned them to create Life Books, allowing students to visualize their goals.

"They had to pick occupations and research job outlooks in addition to understanding how taxation works," she said. "It's the story of life on the economic flow chart. They learned that to achieve what they want, they will have to make sacrifices."

By the time they learned about insurance, the cost of college and the money it takes to raise a family, Schroeder detected a gloomy class atmosphere.

That's when she told them there are rewards for meeting adult responsibilities.

Students not only added boats, cars and homes to their list of work rewards, they also cut out pictures of the items for their Life Books.

After watching an "Oprah" episode about how hard it is to make it in today's society working in low-wage jobs, students became more concerned with how others are coping rather than with their own prospects.

Schroeder offered interested students a deal. If they wanted to get involved with Project HOPE (Helping Others Prosper Everyday), they could earn credit for the class.

"Half the students opted to participate," she said. "The rest chose to do the regular lessons."

With so few days of school left in the year, students were presented with a whirlwind of information about the needs of local people who come to Friends In Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park.

They also visited the food shelf and the Stone Soup Thrift Shop in St. Paul Park.

"Many of these kids didn't know about the needs," Schroeder said. "They were really bothered when they found out people were not able to buy diabetic supplies or epinephrine pens for allergies."

Students got a crash course about life, learning the food shelf served 2,800 families last year.

Among the needs for the food shelf is transportation for people who need help getting to medical appointments and ways to haul needed furniture from the thrift shop. There is always a need for more volunteers and more cash donations.

After the tours, students got take-out sandwiches and ate at Oakwood Park.

Kristine Larson said she saw a woman at the food shelf get her groceries. She also saw her hug several of the volunteers. "People don't realize how humble these people are."

"Asking for help is not something you should be afraid of," said Jessica Baldwin.

In addition to meeting with State Rep. Katie Sieben and Sen. Sharon Marko this week to talk about getting state grants for local aid services, students got their marching orders from Schroeder.

They were assigned to write letters to corporations, churches and letters to newspapers, and continue with work to get fliers out and posters up around the communities and in secondary schools to educate people about the needs.

"Education is a huge piece of this circle," Schroeder said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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