Aspen High club helps students with ‘figuring out the figuring-out process’
Game of Life club offers life skills and insight into unconventional life paths
As seniors at Aspen High School with future plans on their minds, Claire Wolfer-Jenkins and Gemma Goss are in peak “figuring it out” stage.
“I feel like that’s such a daunting question of, like, ‘What do you want to become?’” Goss said. “Because I feel like it kind of labels you as a person: What are you? What do you do? You say your job, and I feel like that’s such a bad societal norm, I guess, because people are more than just their career.”
Goss and Wolfer-Jenkins aim to challenge that pressure and that norm with their “Game of Life” club, which exposes students to helpful life skills and winding life paths.
The Aspen High club is the product of Wolfer-Jenkins’ idea for a crash course in practical matters necessary for life as an adult and Goss’ idea for a club that would show students a broader definition of what the future might look like.
There are lessons from experts who can teach participants about credit and personal finance, or the job application process, for instance, as well as speakers who can attest to the possibility of pursuing a less conventional career. Speakers come in about once a month and include Bruce Gordon, the founder of EcoFlight, who spoke in November, and filmmaker/photographer Pete McBride, who spoke at the February meeting.
Wolfer-Jenkins had decided to start a “Life Skills” club after seeing a poster for “Adulting 101” at another school; she wanted to offer those skills in bite-size drop-in club meetings rather than, say, Aspen High School’s longer-term personal finance courses.
“That would be really interesting, and I feel like (it would be) very useful to have at our own school,” she figured at the time. “So I took that back here. … I should probably start something like that that actually helps students and prepares them for after high school.”
Goss likewise had an idea for her own upstart group, inspired in part by her participation in a thinking-about-the-future-type workshop with Aaron Garland, a life coach for young adults and former Aspen High School English teacher. Goss wanted to assure her peers that people aren’t defined by their careers, and they don’t have to follow a conventional route to get there, either.
“I wanted to create a club so kids didn’t feel alone. … We can try and experience new things and figure it out together,” Goss said.
Garland noticed, in conversations with both Goss and Wolfer-Jenkins, “a strong similar interest in not so much figuring out what to do next after high school as much as (in) figuring out the figuring-out process,” he said.
“They’re so conscientious, and they’re so sort of thoughtful about their peers, and you know, what would be of value? What would be helpful for other students?” Garland said. “And they’re willing to put in the work and the time to create something that really gives back to the school in a big way, I think.”
Process, as Garland noted, is more important than product at the Game of Life Club.
Sure, participants are equipped with life skills that will help them with “adulting,” and they’re aware of more careers they could pursue.
But they’re also finding that there is value in the act of discovering and learning along the way. Goss found inspiration in Gordon’s talk about his path to EcoFlight not so much for the destination as for Gordon’s admission that “he’s still figuring it out,” she said; Garland noted that McBride’s career path as a photographer is one of reinvention.
“That’s, that’s wonderful, wonderful to hear about and know about. … It just sort of helps young people understand that this process entails a lot of flexibility, and if you have too rigid an idea or vision of what you’re going to pursue, that you can miss out on a lot,” Garland said.
Flexibility doesn’t have to look like something completely outside the box either, Garland said.
“It’s perfectly helpful to be exposed to people who did follow sort of a more standard career path, but that (conventional path) rarely happens without being challenged or distracted along the way,” Garland said. “Life happens.”
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In the 2022 iteration of the statewide Teaching and Learning Conditions Colorado survey, 19 educators from Aspen public schools reported that they were considering leaving the field of education altogether at the end of this school year. That accounts for almost 13% of the Aspen School District staff members who completed the survey this year.