ASHLAND — “Schools don’t prepare students enough for the real world.” It’s a common criticism often lobbed at the modern public school system.

Sometimes this criticism comes from parents, and sometimes it comes from students knee-deep in imaginary numbers and matrices in calculus class.

We heard similar criticism during our Oct. 14 Talk The Vote listening session, when Ashlanders suggested the need for more focus from the school district on life skill training and curricula. 

“Nobody knows how to sew a button or write a check or pay their taxes,” one person said. 

A survey commissioned by H&R Block in 2019 showed that 84 percent of Americans reported learning things in school they never used again after graduation. 

And when given a choice between learning about tax preparation or calculus, only 13 percent of respondents chose calculus. 

One of the life skills that people frequently say they missed out on is personal finance, but current and future students eager to learn these skills are in luck: Starting July 1, any student in Ohio that is entering 9th grade is required to take a financial literacy class to graduate. As such, area schools are prepared to offer a financial literacy class in the fall.

Ashland City Schools offers a general financial literacy class as well as more specialized classes in economics and business. At Loudonville-Perrysville, financial literacy learning is embedded in students’ government classes. At Hillsdale, teacher Jennifer Grissinger (who also teaches family and consumer sciences) offers a standalone class for financial learning. And Mapleton schools are working to offer a standalone class in the fall, superintendent Scott Smith said.

According to Ohio’s learning standards for financial literacy, which these classes have to follow, high school students can expect to learn about investing, credit debt, risk management and insurance, financial responsibility, money management, and more. 

For students that want to start learning a bit earlier than high school, Hillsdale Local Schools also offers financial literacy to 8th graders, curriculum director Alyson Baker said.

Other schools across the country have seen success teaching life skills using a variety of models.

In Rappahannock, VA, students receive scholarships to a four-week program called Pathways Academy where they have the opportunity to start a Roth IRA, buy business attire, and learn skills for navigating adult life, according to an article from the Rappahannock News.

In Augusta, GA, high school basketball coach Jerry Hunter focuses on teaching his players teamwork, communication skills, and problem-solving in an effort to promote youth development alongside player development, according to an interview Hunter had with WJBF.

Beyond financial literacy, some area schools also offer courses that teach other life skills. Hillsdale High School students can take a family and consumer sciences class (formerly known as home economics class), and 7th graders can take a life-skills class.

“The 7th-grade class covers a wide range of skills that include how to change a tire, basic cooking, balancing a checkbook, laundry etc. The skills taught are dependent on the interests and needs of the students in each class,” Baker said.

Ashland City Schools offers over 15 life skills classes in a variety of subjects and for a range of students, Ashland High School Assistant Principal Kate Bartlett said. 

A few of these classes include: A class where students with disabilities run the school’s coffee shop; a general education career based intervention class where students are placed in a job and learn how to deal with paychecks, resumes, and job hunting; and an advanced class where students can earn credentials for future careers.

“Our goal at the high school is to always prepare students for whatever is coming next in their lives. So whether that’s straight to the workforce or getting work skills through our career center or two-year college or four-year college, we want to be able to support all learners,” Bartlett said.

Ashland City School’s curriculum is updated every year based on the feedback that the school receives from students, allowing the district to adapt to what students want to learn, Bartlett added.

Loudonville-Perrysville schools no longer offer a family and consumer sciences class after the teachers for the subject retired a few years ago. But students still have access to career-based classes on agriculture and STEM, superintendent Catherine Puster said.

“We are extremely proud of all the course offerings we have, considering we are such a small school. We work diligently to assess and determine the needs of all students every year,” Puster said.

“When we are armed with that data and information, we are able to make decisions that are best for our students and our community.”

Mapleton also does not offer many traditional life skills courses like family and consumer sciences, but instead focuses on teaching students emotional and social skills, Smith said. 

“With just emotional supports, especially, we’ve really ramped those up now with all the things related to COVID and related to the pandemic, we do some things specifically at the middle school in terms of course work related to that,” Smith said.

Mapleton also brings in counselors and works to address bullying in order to foster students’ emotional and social health, Smith said.

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