These days, eighth-graders are thinking about more than schoolwork, texting, how they look and dating.

Through the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce’s 21st Century Business program, students are being introduced to lessons in personal finance, careers and preparing for their futures.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the program, which is led by local business professionals. Once a week for 10 weeks, volunteer instructors visit classrooms to teach business curriculum and to familiarize students with local companies and job opportunities.

Activities include learning how to write checks, balance a checkbook and write a résumé, along with other important lessons, such as understanding credit cards and interest payments, paying taxes and learning how to communicate professionally.

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On Wednesday, more than 400 students from Seymour Middle School, Medora Junior High School, Immanuel Lutheran School and St. Ambrose Catholic School put some of those lessons to practice during the annual Real World Career Day at Seymour Middle School.

Representatives from 22 local companies, businesses, colleges and service agencies participated, setting up booths in the gym to explain more about their jobs and to answer students’ questions. Some of those attending were Cummins Seymour Engine Plant, Aisin USA Manufacturing, the Jackson County Learning Center, Jackson County Emergency Medical Services, Rose Acre Farms and Schneck Medical Center.

“We try to have a variety here from different areas — finance, education, social services, health care and industry,” said Jackie Hill with Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., which helps organize the Real World Career Day event.

Katie Schlosser with Rose Acre Farms said that, as a 21st Century Business instructor, she has enjoyed the interaction she has had with students.

“Growing up in Texas, we didn’t have a program like this when I was in school, but I think it’s a great way to get students thinking about careers and what they might be interested in doing,” she said.

It also gives companies the chance to show kids there are many job opportunities available within a particular field or business.

“Like here at Rose Acres, it’s way more than just eggs,” she said. “We have office workers, human resources, IT, communications and marketing, lab workers. It’s not all on the farms.”

Becky Brewer with Jackson County Public Library said she was impressed by the level of interest students demonstrated and their desire to be more involved. Besides talking about her job as head of information services at the Seymour Library, she also handed out sign-up sheets for volunteering and the library’s Teen Advisory Group.

“I’m getting hoarse from talking to them about it, but that’s OK,” Brewer said. “I’m glad they want to know so much. A lot of them are surprised that it requires a master’s degree to be a librarian.”

Students were required to fill out a puzzle using information they learned at each booth.

The event, similar to a job fair, has been canceled the past couple of years due to snow, Hill said. This year, participation was down some from previous years, she said.

Seymour Middle School student Kiley Blankenship said the event was a great way to discover what jobs are available locally.

For extra credit, she even created a résumé and handed it out to participating businesses, explaining what her interests are and what kind of job she’d like to have.

It wasn’t easy, she said, because she’s shy and finds it difficult to converse and interact with adults. But she was able to find out more about careers available at Schneck Medical Center and Kremers Urban Pharmaceuticals.

“My mom was joking and said maybe I would find a job today, and I said, ‘I wish, but I’m not old enough yet,’” she said.

In the meantime, she is looking into volunteer opportunities at the hospital and the library.

Eighth-grader Alesha Graham said she was most interested in Schneck Medical Center’s booth, where she learned about an opportunity she can’t wait to try.

“When you’re 14, you can job shadow there; and since I want to go into nursing, it would be helpful to see everything nurses do,” she said.

Even though she has four more years before she graduates, Alesha said she is already thinking about what classes she needs to take and what college she wants to attend to become a nurse.

“My mother is a nurse and my sister is going to school to be a nurse, so it’s something I’m very interested in, too,” she said.

Besides Schneck, she also was able to talk with representatives from Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus and Ivy Tech Community College about what kind of degree programs they offer for nursing and how long it takes.

“You can’t just graduate from high school and think you’re done,” Alesha said. “There’s so much more you can do by going to college.”

Eighth-grader Trevor Layne said he is more interested in a career where he can be hands-on building and designing.

“I got to talk to Cummins and Aisin, and they seem like they would be a good fit for me,” he said. “And by working there, I could stay local.”

Trevor said he likes being more knowledgeable about what businesses are in Seymour.

“There is a lot here,” he said. “I think this is a good way to help get us focused on our future.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.