More than three-hundred Willcox High School students interviewed, got a “job” and then moved from table to table spending their newly earned money, after deducting taxes, on housing, transportation, groceries and, if there was anything left, optional expenses such as clothing and entertainment.
Just the first step post-job was a rude awakening for many of the students, who did not realize just how much money is taken out of their paychecks for taxes.
“Their mouths hung open. I think I ruined a lot of dreams,” said Darcy Tessman, Extension and 4-H Youth Development agent for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Tessman led a team of three in writing the curriculum for Launch Into Life –- this day-long process of educating students on the basics of life after high school.
Reactions from students ran the gamut, as students’ experience with these skills also run the gamut.
Sophomore Alexis Hernandez just said, “It was hard!”
Audri Webster, also a sophomore, said, “I thought it was really informative. I learned a lot – if I get a bad job, I can’t shop every day. And I learned how to figure our what you actually get paid after you take the taxes out.”
She added that she was to be in a job interview contest at State FFA the next day, “so it was like a warm-up doing the job interview.”
Sophomore Josh Encinas said, “It taught me a lot about monthly payments – I had a job, but I didn’t have to make monthly payments. Now I know what to expect and what kind of job I’d need to have the luxuries I expect. The interview was the most nerve-racking. But now I know what it will be like when I get a job after college. It was a very interesting experience.”
Tessman said kids in 4-H and FFA are taught skills for interviewing, business and making presentations early-on and continue through high school, but many “general students don’t get this in their curriculum.”
The students each had a packet with information ranging from job interviewing and resume writing tips to information on how to calculate taxes, write checks and keep a check register up to date.
The program was initiated by the Southeastern Arizona Workforce Connection in Cochise County, which is operated by the Cochise Private Industry Council (CPIC), a non-profit 501c3 workforce development organization for Cochise, Graham and Greenlee counties. SEAZ Workforce Connection is a private, non-profit corporation, funded by state and federal grants and governed by a Board of Directors.
Board member Librado “J.R.” Ramirez, executive director of Southeastern Arizona Community Action Program in Safford, said that Vada Phelps, Executive Direcor of CPIC, “has a tremendous staff with wonderful vision and insight –- one of the best.”
Ramirez said Thursday at Willcox High School was his first time at a Launch Into Life program.
“I think it’s fantastic. It should’ve been done years ago. It should be incorporated into the curriculum... students need the reality of life as well as the books and education,” he said.
“As part of a community action program, we have to be involved in all parts of the community and that includes the students, who are the future of the community,” Ramirez said.
Board member Jason Bowling, of Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative, was also at the event.
“The Board established Cochise County Workforce Development to invest in the region’s workforce to attract jobs. We also need to invest in out youth as they are the futire of our workforce,” Bowling, of Sierra Vista, said.
Tessman said, “We piloted this program in Benson four years ago, and we usually do it with ninth-graders, but because Willcox had the fire, we are playing catch-up here and we did it with the whole high school today.”
She said Bisbee has done the program for three years and Douglas for two. “We will do Valley Union High School and Tombstone, both for the whole high schools, as we are playing catch-up there, as well. The program has doubled every year we’ve had it in existence,” Tessman said.
She added, “The Willcox community has really come out and supported the young people and I really appreciate that. We have to keep in mind that 30 percent of high schoolers go on to graduate from college. But 100 percent go on to have bills to pay.”
Tessman said a core of volunteers have come from Douglas, Safford and Clifton through the Workforce Board; and the National Civilian Community Corps, a 10-member team from the Southwest Region of AmeriCorps out of Denver, also came to help with the 10 schools doing Launch Into Life programs in Cochise County over a two-week period.
“The total value of these 10 Cochise County programs is $70,000, and it’s all free to the schools. We’ve not only gathered the volunteers, but we have a core partnership that provides monetary and in-kind donations. They are Cochise County Workforce Development, Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative and Sierra Southwest (Arizona Electric Power Cooperative).
Others helping through CPIC are Cochise College, University of Arizona South and Professional Youth Quest, Tessman said. “Mary Tieman of SEAZ Workforce Connection, put together volunteers from Sierra Vista to Safford, as well as from lots of additonal places in the community – it a small community, everyone gets tabbed to come and help,” said Tessman.
WHS Principal Jeff Thompson said some of the high school kids had their parents check them out and did not stay and take advantage of the program.
“I hopes that next year we can get the parents to see the value of this important program and the kids will stay and take advantage of it. It’s like an on-campus field trip,” he said.