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Adulting Club: Make the Real World Real

The best new club for your school this fall

Photo by Hugh Han on Unsplash

This article is co-authored by Elissa Levy (teacher) and Rosemarie A. (student). Note: after we published this, we came across McDonald’s piece in Educate , which also discusses how to teach adulting skills, in particular for individuals with autism. Our article is more generally focused on all students, explaining how to teach adulting skills in a high school extracurricular setting.

Rosemarie: I’m in high school. I’m nervous about becoming an adult. Adults need to know so many things that aren’t a part of the high school curriculum. History, biology, and algebra are important, but I also need to know how to get a good job and how to keep said job. I need to know what to do with my paychecks and how to file taxes. I need to know how to write emails that people will actually respond to. My friends agree — it’s a big gap in our education.

Elissa: When I was a teenager, my teachers said that the high school curriculum was our ticket to a workable life. They said it’s impossible to teach everything that we’ll need to know as adults, but if we take hard enough classes then we’ll be able to figure out the rest. That was a lie. Getting a 5 on the AP Calculus BC exam did not save me from existential panic when I couldn’t figure out the washing machines in my college dorm. Getting hired at a top hedge fund didn’t save me from letting my paychecks pile up in my checking account.

Last year, my students (including Rosemarie) bemoaned that there was no curricular space to learn the practical, critical skills for modern life. This includes how to network, how to do self-care, how to manage money, and how to run a home — what we call “adulting.” (I know the word “adulting” has a bad rep in some pockets of social media, but here it just means “the things you need to do to exist as a grown-up in our society.”) I believe these adulting skills should be part of the core curriculum. My students didn’t want to wait for curricular reform. They just wanted to demystify adulthood.

Rosemarie: So we formed an Adulting Club. We asked our teacher Suzy Hanafy to be our adviser. We made a list of all the adulting skills we knew about, and we invited different adult speakers (mostly staff and former staff from our school) to come to give presentations each week. Before our first meeting, the club leaders brainstormed a list of topics we thought were going to be important to know how to do as an adult. From there we organized the list of topics so that students wouldn’t be learning in a random way.

We have covered these topics so far:

  1. Finance. How to manage debt. Where to put your savings. What investing is. What it means to “file your taxes,” and how to actually do it.
  2. Real estate. How to rent an apartment. How to buy a home. How to decide which one is better for you. How to maintain a home once you’re living in it.
  3. Careers. How to choose a career path. How to network and do informational interviews. How to build your resume. How to format your resume. How to send professional emails.
  4. The world. What’s happening with climate change. What’s going on in the Middle East. How elections work.
  5. Homelife. How people have relationships — and sex. How to manage a household budget. How to care for children.
  6. Self-care. How to stay organized. How to avoid procrastination. How to meditate.

Elissa: The Adulting Club was one of the most well-attended clubs in our school during the pandemic year. Many students who weren’t already friends with each other joined the club because the topic was important to them. They kept coming back because it was an empowering experience: every new topic we covered made adulthood just a tad less terrifying.

If you google “adulting club,” there isn’t much that comes up. A couple of schools have them, but it’s not (yet) a widespread movement. Let’s form Adulting Clubs in all our schools. We’ll help so many teenagers learn key life skills. We should also lobby policymakers to add adulting skills to our national (or even state-specific) education agendas — but that will take time.

Rosemarie: We’re gearing up now for this coming school year’s programming. We plan to bring in speakers to talk about how to do self-advocacy, how to invest your money successfully, how to pay bills, and more. We regularly ask attendees what they want to learn about, too. Our goal is to make adulthood manageable later by preparing for it now. I also want to start a public website for our Adulting Club, so that any student out there can learn the adulting skills we’ve covered so far, and also how to start their own clubs.

My friends who’ve graduated say that they don’t feel ready to move on because they don’t know enough of the required skills for life. We will all need to lean on family and friends to learn — but also, why not streamline the learning process in a school-based Adulting Club? Students who want to start their own Adulting Clubs can just ask a few family members or teachers what they feel comfortable talking about. Start small and grow from there.

Special thanks to Suzy Hanafy, our Adulting Club adviser.

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Elissa Levy

Elissa Levy

I teach physics and computer science in East Harlem, New York. I aim to engage.