- Associated Press - Monday, December 10, 2018

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) - Taxes. Health insurance. Basic finances.

Lawton Public Schools prepares its seniors for almost everything they need to know once they graduate. Almost everything.

The first ever LPS Senior Conference recently aimed to teach soon-to-be-graduating seniors about the aforementioned aspects of adult life that are often overlooked in the classroom. You won’t find questions about how to pay your income taxes, how to enroll in health insurance or how to balance a household budget on state-mandated tests, but they’re valuable skills every student will need to know once they leave the classroom for the final time.

Mark Mattingly, executive director of student services with LPS, knew this was an issue and sought a way to remedy it. While visiting the Mid-Del School District, he learned of a senior conference the district hosts each year to prepare its seniors for life after graduation. He brought the idea back to Lawton with the goal of creating something even better for seniors here.

“The more I thought about it, I thought Lawton has as many or more resources that we could tap into here,” Mattingly told The Lawton Constitution . “With the help of our career advisers at each high school, we got in touch with Arvest Bank with the idea of putting this on.”

Arvest responded in kind and threw its support behind the senior conference. Mattingly admitted the scope of the endeavor was a bit larger than the bank had anticipated, but everything still moved forward. Numerous local groups and institutions, including Cameron University, Comanche County Memorial Hospital and the City of Lawton offered support, resources and representatives to speak at 16 breakout sessions throughout the day. In all, 27 businesses and institutions sponsored the conference. Lawton First Assembly provided the venue and around 850 seniors were invited to attend.

“The idea is to give students the information that they will need within six to eight months at graduation,” Mattingly said. “There’s things like vehicle responsibility, taxes and health care that they will need to have real life experience in in two or three years.”

The conference was opened with a keynote address from author Alton Carter, who spoke about the trials he faced in his life growing up. The writer of “The Boy Who Carried Bricks” and “Aging Out,” Carter told the packed crowd about how he had to struggle in his early years and how those struggles impacted him as an adult. Life might not be easy in the moment, but it’s preparing the individual for later in life. He was bounced between seven foster homes as a child after the Department of Human Services removed him and his siblings from their home. It wasn’t easy, but he succeeded in the end.

“It was a great story of how he was able to overcome a lot of the issues he had in life,” Mattingly said. “He speaks to sixth and 12th grade students and those are the hardest to keep their attention. He didn’t have any issue with these students today.”

After the keynote ended, the students were encouraged to go to the breakout sessions. Rebecca Saville, an Eisenhower High School senior, said she was most intrigued by information she learned while attending a session dedicated to the National Guard.

“They told us that when you enlist in the Guard, you’re still allowed to enroll and attend school,” she said. “They can pay for your school then while you’re attending instead of having to wait until later. That was a big deal for me.”

Saville said she had reservations about graduation in May, but the conference helped alleviate some of that anxiety. She was surprised by the turnout and is pleased Lawton Public Schools organized something that informed them about life after school. She planned on eating a quick meal before attending another class on income taxes.

“I don’t know the first thing about taxes or anything like that,” she said. “So I want to go there and hopefully learn something.”

Saville had to move fast because many of the sessions filled up quickly. The district underestimated the interest of students and many sessions were forced to turn students away because they were so full. Mattingly said that is a problem that will be remedied next year. The senior conference was a success and it’s here to stay.

“We want to have 25-30 sessions next time,” he said. “We want to grow this and have more presenters and opportunities for students to learn. The community really came out and supported us and responded well to this. So if any community member or organization or business wants to help next year, they should get in touch with us here at Lawton Public Schools because we would welcome their support.”


Information from: The Lawton Constitution, http://www.swoknews.com

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