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August 2010 — Web Exclusive

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“Hyperfocused”:
the kids of Austin’s Bedichek Middle School.

Get A Life Helps Kids Plan Their Future

by Mark Wangrin

Photo of boy student Photo of girl student Photo of girl student Photo of boy student Photo of girl student Photo of boy student Photo of girl student

In 2009, Forbes magazine polled hundreds of New York City kindergarteners on a whole bunch of grownup stuff, like their hopes and dreams and life goals. They found 21 percent had weighed their options and carefully plotted a specific career path.

They wanted to be super heroes. Many of them already knew which one they wanted to be, too — Spider-Man.

Unfortunately, unless they develop wall-crawling abilities and an uncanny intuition for peril, odds are that they’ll have to settle for something else.

Maybe an architect? A lawyer? Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts?

Those are real questions, and now Texas middle-schoolers have some high-tech, interactive help in finding real answers.

“Get A Life,” a Texas Comptroller website at GetaLife.tx.gov, is designed to get middle-school students thinking about what they want out of life — and what they need to do to get it.

To answer the Texas economy’s need for a diverse and well-trained work force, Comptroller Susan Combs greenlit the site to spur middle-school students into thinking about fast-growing and well-paying careers.

“Get a Life encourages kids to dream big, explore the endless possibilities the future holds and map out a plan to get where they want to go in life,” Combs says.

Katherine Deming, a teacher at Bedichek Middle School in Austin for the last six years, says middleschool students are “hyperfocused” on their future.

“They want so badly to be treated like adults,” Deming says. Middle-school kids “are literally in the middle — and the decisions that they make in seventh and eighth grade will affect the rest of their lives,” she says.

Research showed that the best way to reach “tweens” is through technology. A 2008 survey by Internet tracking service DoubleClick Performics indicated that 83 percent of U.S. kids aged ages 10 to 14 spend at least an hour online daily.

One of the most popular tools available on Get a Life is called Reality Check, a game from Texas Workforce Solutions. Kids answer questions about what type of lifestyle they want (from Spartan to opulent) and the program tells them how much money it will take to sustain their choices and in what careers they could earn it.

“It takes a holistic point of view,” says Beth Hallmark, editorial creative director for the Comptroller’s Public Outreach and Strategies Division. “It’s not just what kind of job do you want, but what quality of life do you want. What are your talents? What types of careers interest you? How do you get there?”

In spring 2009, Comptroller staffers visited Bedichek Middle School to tout the site and obtain feedback on the type of website elements that can woo middle-schoolers. Interactive features and games topped the list, along with peer experiences.

“They wanted someone who spoke their language,” Hallmark says.

Deming thinks the site is helpful.

“Many of my students will be required to earn an income to help support their families, and this website was a great resource for them,” she says. “Not to mention that it was well-designed and written in teen-friendly language.”

Get A Life debuted in June 2009 but is receiving a promotional boost as children return to school this fall.

“There are many paths to success,” Hallmark says. “There’s college, vocational school, training programs and so forth. The single truth is that some type of education beyond high school is necessary.”

True enough. Even Spider-Man has a degree from Empire State University. FN

Do you know a middle-school student who’s grappling with plans for the future? Tell him or her about Get a Life at www.getalife.tx.gov.

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