Holly Qualm, LaCee Bennett and Kate Norman take a LifeSmarts quiz online. 

Bulletin courtesy photo by Michelle Dahlberg

Do you want to know how to change a tire? Or the difference between a W2 and a W4 tax form? Or how to install smoke detectors in your house?

As students in Buffalo High School’s life skills class, seniors Kate Norman, Holly Qualm, Anson Turner, LaCee Bennett, Emi Wagner and Maddi Johnson can probably answer all those questions and more for you.

What they probably couldn’t have told you until just recently is that while they were answering those questions and others in their class, they were quietly competing with high schoolers from across the state – and beating them – in the Wyoming LifeSmarts competition.

It wasn’t until Wyoming LifeSmarts shared an April 28 press release that they realized what they had accomplished, Norman said.

“When we found out, we were kind of like, ‘Wait, what?’” Norman said. “It was just part of our class. We certainly didn’t expect to win anything, let alone become state champions.”

“It was kind of a shock,” Turner said. “We didn’t realize there was a state competition, let alone a national competition.”

LifeSmarts, a digital consumer education competition and program of the National Consumers League, challenges high schoolers to answer questions about personal finance, health and safety, the environment, technology and consumer rights and responsibilities.

The team of Norman, Qualm, Bennett and Turner took first in the state out of 20 teams in the varsity competition, team co-coach and life class teacher Michelle Dahlberg said. LifeSmarts also has a competition specifically for Future Business Leaders of America students, and that competition was won by Wagner and Johnson, who beat out 14 teams across the state.

Competitors had a limited amount of time to answer a wide variety of questions, Bennett said. While her team breezed through most of the questions, the occasional technology question did catch them off guard.

“We struggled a lot with anything technology or computer-based,” Bennett said. “None of us can tell you about what is inside a computer or about databases or any of that sort of stuff, so I think that is where we struggled most.”

Johnson said her team also struggled with the technology questions, but the girls were usually able to collaborate to find the right answers.

“Usually, one of us knew the answer or at least had a pretty good idea of what the answer was,” Johnson said. “I would know the answer from one of my classes, or Emi would know the answer from one of hers. We just kind of trusted each other’s knowledge and experience, and it paid off.”

With each question and each correct answer, the students learned more about the complicated adult world around them, Wagner said, and they all feel a little more prepared for “adulting” than they did before.

“As we’re going out into the world after high school, we will have to figure things out on our own,” Wagner said. “LifeSmarts provides us with the knowledge we need to do that.”

 Dahlberg agreed.

“Through LifeSmarts, the kids are getting knowledge that we all have to have as adults in our society,” Dahlberg said. “These are things that you and I learned through time and experience and sometimes mistakes, but they have the opportunity to learn them while still in high school, which I think is incredibly valuable.”

As winners of the state competition, both teams earned a chance to compete in the 2020 in-person LifeSmarts competition, which was to be held in Washington, D.C., this spring. Due to public health concerns, the event was canceled, but the teams are invited to compete in the 2021 competition, which will be in Cincinnati.

“Yeah, I’m not sure how that’s going to play out,” Norman said. “With everybody in college, I don’t think we’ll be able to make that.”

“It’s kind of a bummer that we missed out on our chance to compete in D.C.,” Bennett said. “That would have been a lot of fun, but it’s still kind of cool to have the bragging rights of being the best in the state. It’s just another cool accomplishment for us to celebrate in our senior year.”

Stephen Dow covers a variety of beats for the Buffalo Bulletin including the Johnson County Commissioners and JCSD #1. Stephen is a Billings native who joined the Bulletin in 2016.

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