‘Real’ World : Laguna Beach High’s ‘Life-Planning’ Class Gives Teens Some Lessons in Adulthood

Times Staff Writer

At Laguna Beach High School, where life as a high school junior or senior is generally carefree, a “life-planning” course teaches the fourth R: Reality.

At least 30 high school students enrolled in the 12-week class, called “Choices and Challenges,” got a dose of reality when they were asked to consider some life-planning decisions.

The barrage of questions included: What is the monthly base rate for utility bills? Electric bills? How much will you spend on groceries a month? How much does a dress cost? A suit? A pair of shoes? And based on a stringent budget, how will you manage your money to accommodate these and other monthly costs?

Responses differed, but Lisa Zimbleman, a junior, seemed to sum up the overall feeling: “I was really surprised at how much things cost,” she said. “Now I may not move (out of her parent’s home) as fast.”


Life After High School

Unlike traditional classes like mathematics, science or history, “Choices and Challenges” was designed to encourage students to “realistically” view life after high school, said Jan Fritsen, a school counselor who added an extra hour to her day to help teach the class.

Fritsen is joined by English teacher Charles Schiller to teach the course, offered for the first time this trimester.

“Kids go through school learning the traditional (courses), Fritsen said. “There’s no practical application because the business of living is not addressed.”


While the class hinges on the practical aspect of learning, Schiller said, “it examines the effect of stereotypical influences . . . and helps make students aware of options and possibilities.”

Concern for Future

Many of the students agreed: “Now I’m so much more aware of what’s going to happen to me in the future,” said senior Corrine Brubaker. “I know I’m not going to have my parents behind me the rest of my life. . . . I have to make it happen. Before, I was so naive.”

Todd Spath, also a senior, said: “All my classes have been like I’m preparing for college. But with this class, I feel like I’m preparing for life.”


The class is based on two books--"Choices” for teen-aged girls and “Challenges” for the boys--journals for self-awareness and personal planning. Both books were written by a team of Santa Barbara authors: Mindy Bingham, Judy Edmondson and Sandy Stryker.

Schiller said the class was developed shortly after he and Fritsen attended a conference led last year by Bingham. Edmondson teaches a similar class at Santa Barbara High School.

Obtained a Grant

To pay for the program, Laguna Beach High received a $2,000 School Improvement Program grant to cover the cost of books and curriculum planning and began offering the class for English credit this year. “In order to bring it in the English curriculum, we had to include a lot of writing assignments,” Schiller said.


And because the emphasis of the class is on forming opinions and making hypothetical decisions, the students are not graded according to right or wrong answers, said Schiller. The grades are based on “completing each assignment and how much thought they put into their work,” he said.

The assignments cover such topics as how to make budget projections, marriage and children, career planning and examining personal attitudes. The class also includes guest speakers on such topics as parenting, college admissions, assertion training and financial responsibilities. Each discussion topic is followed by a writing assignment, Schiller said.

Additionally, there is a section on song analysis, with the students bringing in records they wanted to interpret. “The basic idea was to begin to listen to the words,” said Schiller, adding that many of the students had never listened to what the song artist was saying.

Class Filled Rapidly


Because the class was new, both teachers contacted a variety of students, looking for about 30 who were interested in enrolling in the class. The reputation of the class soon spread throughout the school, said Fritsen, adding that the class for next trimester was closed about five minutes after registration opened last week.

Judging from the number of students hoping to enroll in the class, Principal Anthony Ortega considers the course a success. "(It) provides new avenues for students that are realistic. The class has a great magnet for students . . . with a mix of learning and enjoying.”

Senior Chris de Vries said the class offers a “caring and nurturing environment. Some classes are really structured, but this class is nurturing because (the teachers) want to help you learn things.”

He said the class allows students to do two things: “you’re learning and expressing. When you express (ideas) others join in . . . so you learn from them. I’ve never seen a class that was this involved. This class gives you a chance to express yourself verbally as well as written.”


Junior Rachel Goslins said the class presents choices viewed from a different perspective. “All the things we were doing somehow collided with what was going on in my life,” as far as setting goals and objectives, she said.

The first trimester ends Tuesday with a new class beginning Dec. 2, Fritsen said. “I’m sorry it’s going to end . . . it’s been exciting to see what’s happened,” she said, quickly adding that she looks forward to the new class with just as much vigor.