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Chestatee students spend day getting life-ready
They job shadowed, learned life lessons
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Renee Ginn, Gainesville Chick-fil-A marketing director, speaks with Chestatee High School juniors at Chick-fil-A in Gainesville during “Commit to the C” day Thursday. During “Commit to the C” day, Chestatee High School stops regular instruction for a day, and all but the freshmen leave campus to work with nonprofits, job shadow and hear speakers talk about life choices. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Chestatee High started a “Commit to the C” effort to help seniors understand daily life after high school, but four years later it has evolved into a school-wide project — all four classes participate in different ways.

The school’s 1,300 students stopped regular instruction for a day Thursday to give them a taste of “the real world,” Principal Suzanne Jarrard said.

“We had a group of teachers who felt like the students needed a little more — the seniors specifically,” Jarrard explained.

“From there, (we said) everybody needs this kind of thinking,” Jarrard said.

All but freshmen leave campus for the day. Sophomores do community service work at nonprofits; juniors job shadow at area business; and seniors hear a series of speakers about daily life and making choices.

The 2016 seniors are the first class to be part of the program all four years, Jarrard said.

The freshmen who stay at school have a “reality fair.” Jarrard explained that the students pick out a career with a salary and “have to live life.”

The freshmen try to buy a car and get insurance. The career they draw also includes their family status — married and have kids. They have to provide food and shelter and their kids get sick, Jarrard said.

“They always buy that sports car, and then they have to go trade it back in” because they can’t afford it and their bills.

The seniors hear speakers who talk about getting a mortgage to buy a house, the benefits of a college degree, balancing a checkbook and the consequences in future years of “sexting” while they are in high school.

Jarrard said the day is to help the students be “life-ready — when I hand out those diplomas, I want to make sure they’re life ready.”

“We try to spend some time before we just send them (juniors and seniors) out into the community,” Jarrard said. “We tell them, ‘This is where we’re going, and this is the function of that entity’ so the kids have some context of where they’re going.”

The sophomores worked at the Georgia Mountain Food Book or Habitat ReStore — or five other organizations — learning about their services. Jarrard said the community service is designed “to light a spark so as adults they’ll give back.”

The juniors toured Lanier Technical College to hear about programs available there and visited 14 area businesses to learn about jobs there. The jobs ranged from manufacturing, such as Kubota Manufacturing of America, ZF, IMS Gear and MP Equipment, to government, such as the county fire training center and courthouse offices, to retail, such as Belk and Chick-fil-A.

The seniors heard from adults who talked about life experiences — and how choices made in high school can “reverberate” in their lives years later.

Amber Sowers, assistant solicitor general for Hall County, warned the students about domestic violence — the foundations of which are created in high school.

“It will start off controlling,” she said about a relationship that is “sweet” when it first occurs. “It will then become threats,” which escalates to violence. Then the “sweet” part of the relationship shows again.

“If you are in this cycle, it will not end,” she declared. “You can get out. You likely can’t do it by yourself.”

Sowers said she has “prosecuted (domestic violence) in every high school in this county, including yours.”

She also warned about sending nude or partially nude photos over the Internet. Those posts “never go away,” she said, even if deleted.

Repeated texting, especially if one party says to stop, can quickly become stalking, she said.

Sheila Caldwell, director of Complete Georgia College for the University of North Georgia, told the students the “investment” of four years beyond high school — to get a college degree — would pay off, literally, throughout their lives.

She outlined the difference in the lives of a person with a college degree and one who made $8 an hour.

“Nowhere in the U.S. can you earn $8 an hour and be self-sufficient,” she said.

She called high school graduation “a foundation to build on.”

Other speakers included Phil Bonellia, Wells Fargo; Semuel Maysonett, iMortgage; Tommy Howard, The Norton Agency; Sandy Salyers, Regions Bank; and Matt Dubnik, Forum Communications.

“We plan this all year, literally,” Jarrard said.

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