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A 'Real-Life Fair' Shows Kids the Real Deal About Careers


Students in one Rhode Island junior high school got a glimpse of their future through a "Real-Life Fair," a career fair that incorporates lessons learned in the classroom. As they watched their earnings dwindle, some found that the careers they had their eyes on might not provide the funds they would like to have in the future. Find out whether a career fair or an online tour of careers is the ideal activity for your classroom! Included: Approaches to career education used in a handful of schools -- across the grades.
more great online and print career education resources!

"I wish they had done this when I was in school, my life might have been a lot different," a parent volunteer remarked, recognizing the value of a school project that helped kids plan intelligently for the future. Eighth-grade students in Exeter-West Greenwich (Rhode Island) Junior High School recently received a dose of reality -- courtesy of their teachers and other volunteers -- with a "Real-Life Fair." Many of the students who participated discovered that their chosen professions might not provide them with the comfortable life they foresee for themselves in the years to come.

"I believe the middle years are the best time to make a lasting impression," Beth Brocato, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at the school, told Education World. "[Those years give] them time to think about and make plans concerning their life -- which we all know is the major focus for most adolescents. This was a hands-on experience of a relevant and real issue to these kids. We wanted to get the eighth graders to start making smart and realistic choices about their future."

Brocato had learned of the Real-Life Fair when a similar program was presented at a small school in northern Rhode Island. She and a few colleagues investigated that project -- and borrowed ideas from a guidebook written by Jane O'Leary and Nancy Robrahn, educators who created a unit for such an event -- and organized a fair to meet the needs of their students.


Organized in three parts, the fair experience incorporated pre-teaching activities, the fair itself, and post-teaching activities. "The pre-teaching involved preparing students to participate in the fair," said Brocato. "This teaching was distributed amongst all disciplines. For example, in social studies, students went online to do a self-survey of likes and talents. The information was used to suggest possible career choices.

"Once students had picked a realistic career based on this activity, they researched the average starting salary for this career," Brocato continued. "They also found out how much post-secondary education would be needed to acquire this job. In math, students took the gross yearly salary and calculated a net (using 8 percent for taxes) and divided by 12 to calculate a monthly take-home salary. However, they were required to put 10 percent of what was left into savings. The remaining money was used to determine how much they could afford for housing (20 percent of the balance) and transportation (15 percent of the balance). In science, they used their figures to set up a checkbook ledger. They began with the net, minus their savings, as a starting balance. This was also where they were taught how to write a check and how to adjust the ledger accordingly.

"The second part of the experience was the Real-Life Fair itself," Brocato explained. The fair was set up in the gymnasium with many booths. Each booth included a display and various documents to help students make decisions about a variety of needs, such as:

  • Housing. Students chose a mortgage or rental based upon the figure calculated in math class.
  • Transportation. Students used advertisements to choose transportation based on the monthly allotment for transportation calculated in math class.
  • Insurance. Students bought dental insurance for $10 per month and homeowners' or rental insurance based on their housing choice.
  • Financial advice. Students invested 10 percent of the original net in stocks, bonds, annuities, and other products with a financial adviser.
  • Food and clothing. Students spent $125 on food and $50 on clothing at this booth.
  • Student loans. If post-secondary education was required for their job, they set up a monthly loan payback system.
  • Part-time jobs. A list of real part-time jobs was posted here.
  • Recreation. Students could choose to subscribe to cable TV, get a gym membership, or go on a vacation with money left over.

"Each booth had a calculator and a volunteer to assist students," added Brocato. "Students wrote a check to the volunteer and adjusted their checkbook ledgers at each station. The volunteer initialed the ledger to validate it."

In addition, there was an Information Booth, where a volunteer was stationed to help students who were having a hard time balancing their budgets, and a ledger station, where volunteers checked students' ledgers to make sure they had hit all the stations and adjusted accordingly.

When students had been to all stations, they went to the Event Card station. There, they picked an event card and either added or subtracted from their ledger accordingly. For example, the card might have read, "Get a flat tire; buy a new one for $50" or "Uncle leaves an inheritance of $100 per month."

At the end of the fair, students filled out an evaluation of their experience. When they turned in their evaluations, they got raffle tickets for prizes to be drawn later.

The final portion of the fair experience was post-teaching. Brocato reported that this was accomplished through English activities in which students filled out job applications, wrote rsums, and developed interview skills. At that time, community members and parents were invited to come to the school to discuss their occupations with the students.


The hands-on career fair opened the eyes of the students as many watched their earnings dwindle. "Many students began to realize that the job they had envisioned for themselves might not [pay] enough to live they way they expected to live," Brocato observed. "They started to think about changing long-term goals, which in turn affected their short-term goals, for example, doing better in school to get into a better college to get a better job. Most kids didn't realize how much it cost to be an adult. I heard the comment, 'I don't want to grow up and have all of this responsibility.'"

The Real-Life Fair was truly a collaborative effort. "The overall coordinator was Joe Potenza," Brocato stated. "Lisa Ross was the school coordinator, and most eighth-grade teachers were involved in the pre- and post-teaching, the setup of the fair, or both. There were nine parent volunteers who helped organize and chaperone the event. And finally, we enlisted representatives from local businesses -- including a car dealership, AAA, a cable company, the police department, the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, a realty company, a college financial institution, and an insurance company -- to run various booths."

The hope of its organizers was that the Real-Life Fair would impact the students' decision making in the future. "We know that many 14-year-olds are too young to fully understand the scope of real-life," said Brocato. "But if they keep this experience in the back of their minds when deciding whether or not to take that extra math class or whether or not to go to college or whether or not to put their best effort into all they do, then I believe the experience was a success."


Though career fairs held in schools are a wonderful opportunity for students to meet with professionals and learn about vocations, much information can be gained simply by searching the resources of the Net. To supplement your study of careers in the classroom, visit these super sites for endless occupational facts and figures.

Young students will be taken with the colorful presentation of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Career Information. Here, you will find careers for students who like music and the arts, science, physical activity and the outdoors, social studies, reading, and math. Information about each career includes what the worker does, what the job is like, how many opportunities exist for this type of work, how to prepare for the job, salary, similar positions, and where to learn more.

When in doubt, ask Jeeves! That is what many kids online are doing every day -- visiting the search engine Ask Jeeves to learn about all kinds of topics, including careers! Ask Kids has an extensive list of careers and great links that provide advice for students who want to learn more about becoming part of various fields. Few searchers will come away from this resource empty-handed!

Designed with high school students in mind, MyFuture incorporates guidance about personal finance, career options, military opportunities, and getting the perfect job. Students may take an interest inventory, build an eye-catching rsum, and play a game that helps them better understand the financial-aid process. The site also explains the value of an excellent cover letter and suggests a few tips to help young people interview well.

Students may take a guided tour that assists them in creating a career plan with Adventures in Education. The virtual tours are designed for students in middle school, high school, and college. The tours walk students through the steps of identifying strengths and interests, matching those to careers, examining the training and education required for given positions, and recommending ways of obtaining funds for higher education.

Planning for the future isn't an easy task, but with Mapping Your Future students will enjoy the activity. This site also offers guided tours for various age-groups, and each page identifies several steps for visitors to follow in order to design a career plan and see it through. Interviewing and job-hunting tips are provided, as well as financial-aid advice and recommendations for selecting a college or training program.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook is one of the best resources you will find for career education. Using this online tool, students may study the nature of the work, working conditions, employment opportunities, training, job outlook, and earnings for all kinds of occupations. Students can also click on Other Information in the Handbook to access a section called Tomorrow's Jobs to learn about expected growth and decline in aspects of the workforce.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Updated 1/20/2010