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Florida 4-H program gives high schoolers crash course in ‘real life’

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — “When will I ever use this in real life?”

It’s a question many teenagers have asked at some point in their academic careers. But it’s not one you’ll likely hear in Lauren Corley’s class, where students practice the lost arts of balancing checkbooks, crafting resumes and conserving energy in the home.

Part of the Florida 4-H Life Ready program, the class is preparing students at two Alachua County high schools for adult life after graduation.

The new program is the result of a partnership between the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida 4-H Youth Development Program, which is part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.

“Both parties sought to reach students slipping through the cracks to help better prepare them for success after high school. They felt positive and preventative youth development could come together to help these students,” said Corley, a 4-H program assistant with UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County.

Hawthorne and Newberry high schools were chosen as pilot programs. So far, 76 students have participated in the weekly lunchtime sessions. Some sessions feature professionals in various fields who talk about how they chose their careers.

A final three-hour activity called “Living on My Own” puts students through an interactive simulation where they’re challenged to make smart financial and professional decisions as a 25-year-old avatar.

“Some of the students plan to go to college, others want to go right into the workforce and some need a little help figuring out which direction they want to go in. This kind of training is important to them — not many high schoolers easily give up lunchtime with friends to spend more time in the classroom,” Corley said.

Tierra Cleckley, an 11th-grader at Hawthorne High School, said she started attending Life Ready classes because she wanted to learn more about personal finances, and get tips on pursuing a career in the hospitality industry.

“Some things I learned that I thought were important were time management skills and transferable skills,” Cleckley said. “I’m really bad with time management, but after the class I started using some of the techniques they taught us, and I noticed improvement.”

Though she already knew what kind of job she wanted to have after high school, Life Ready helped Cleckley make decisions about her path to a college degree.

“Hopefully I’ll be dual enrolling next semester at Santa Fe College, and by the time I graduate high school, I’ll have an associate’s degree in hospitality management. I will be transferring to a university to get my bachelor’s in hospitality management and another bachelor’s degree in culinary arts, most likely at the University of Central Florida, but I have other options in mind. I also want to minor in computer technology,” she said.

Corley hopes the Life Ready program will be adopted by other UF/IFAS Extension county 4-H programs and reach more students like Cleckley.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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