Life skills: Everyone needs them, but many feel that they weren’t taught thoroughly enough before they were exposed to the ‘real world’, a place where you make major decisions with much less guidance from adults. You may be asking “What are life skills?” and while there isn’t a set definition for what life skills are, they tend to include financial and legal literacy, decision making, negotiating, and leadership, and they’re as important as they sound. As there is a growing debate as to whether these subjects should be taught in schools, I wanted to find out if the Northwest School was offering classes or interest groups on life skills and what faculty members think of the prospect of teaching skills like financial and legal literacy, decision making, and leadership to students, whether as a class or during advisory. Additionally, students have voiced their opinions on the importance of life skills and the places they should be taught.
Proponents across the country of teaching life skills at school say that as pupils approach the age of graduation, they should be prepared for paying taxes, obtaining a credit card, and living on a budget, just to name a few. Opponents believe school education and life skills serve different purposes and therefore they should be taught separately. Through speaking to a few faculty members, I was able to discern that they value life skills and believe that they are being taught at the Northwest School, but several students would beg to differ.
As a person who’s attempting to gain an increasing amount of independence, I understand that the ability to make decisions for yourself is arguably the most important and hard-earned one there is, so it’s vital to know how to use it responsibly and wisely.
As mentioned earlier, senior faculty members value life skills and believe that they are being taught at the Northwest School. Cecilia T., the Upper School Assistant Director, says that life skills are touched upon in many classes, including 12th grade Math Modeling where students observe interest rates for student loans and rental housing. Advisory has briefly touched on being prepared for post high school life but Cecilia hopes to include more as the year progresses. Additionally, she believes that being in groups, like Interest and Affinity Groups, the Student Advisory Union, and athletic teams all help build leadership skills that are useful well after you graduate, though she wishes the school did more specific teaching around financial literacy.
Similarly, Ryan G., the former director of PE/Health and Wellness, believes that Advisory has been a place where life skills have been taught, though he’s not certain if they’re still being taught today. Ryan G. and Cecilia T. aren’t alone in believing that Advisory should be a place where these lessons should be taught. Almost 70% of students who responded to my survey about life skills at the Northwest School believe so, but students and faculty disagree sharply on whether the school is actually teaching these skills. While both faculty members I talked to agree that life skills are and should be included in the curriculum, a majority of the respondents to my survey believe that the Northwest School isn’t preparing their students for life after high school and a mere 15% believe our school is currently teaching life skills.
Given this, one would be wondering how many students believe life skills should be taught in school and if they think so, where they should be taught. Over 90% of students believe that these skills should be taught, but there was a great diversity of responses to the question of where they should be taught. Overall, Advisory was the consensus pick with just under 70% of respondents believing that it should be at least one of the places where skills like time management, financial literacy, and decision making are taught, but many others decided to write their own anonymous opinions on the matter. One student wrote “Having a class taken for one trimester every school year [on life skills], starting in the Upper School, would be smart and helpful since students will be able to get jobs starting in their sophomore year.” This opinion was echoed by other respondents, though not everyone was thrilled by the idea. “Find a time that isn’t making kids sit in classrooms for an hour, as they’ll fall asleep” and “life skills are something people should develop… classes tend to make it out like there’s only one way life skills work and I think that really depends on the person.” wrote two students who represent a significant portion of the school that believes meaningful lessons that guide you well after your time at Northwest School should be taught away from the classroom and through real-life experiences, from managing a set small amount of money to negotiating your wage in a job interview.
As shown throughout this article, the high ideals surrounding life skills of the most influential school faculty members aren’t always reflected in the teachings at the Northwest School. Cecilia T., the Upper School Assistant Director, maintains that skills aimed at preparing students for life after high school are perpetually taught and embedded into the current curriculum in this school. Cecilia T. and Ryan G., the former director of PE/Health and Wellness, both believe the Northwest School could do an unquestionably better job at teaching life skills in certain areas.
Cecilia wants the school to do more specific teaching around financial literacy. Additionally, Ryan mentioned that the school used to offer a Summit focused on teaching and growing the accessibility of life skills to Upper School students, which was run by Leilani N., the Extended Learning Director, but was canceled last year, and was not offered this year. Given this and the schoolwide poll analytics, the viewpoints of teachers and students are complex and obviously aren’t monoliths, but there is an ever-growing disconnect between many of the senior faculty members who believe the school is adequately preparing pupils for their life beyond school and the majority of students who believe the Northwest School aren’t teaching these skills.