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Till the class bell do us part

Courtney Hughes and John Autry were nervous.

The big day was here and a lot of people were coming to watch them walk down the aisle and take their vows to love and honor each other. For better and for worse. In good times and bad times. As long as they live. That's, like, forever!

They remembered to breathe through the ceremony and after it was over, they celebrated with their friends, family members and other wedding guests. They drank punch and ate wedding cake. When everyone left, they changed clothes and went back to reality: classes at Citrus High School.

The mock wedding took place Feb. 18 in the cafeteria at Citrus High as part of National Vocational Education Week and to mark the end of their lessons in Family Living, a semester course that prepares students for their roles and responsibilities as adults.

There were two ceremonies _ same bride and groom for each _ with some 250 people attending each wedding. "Some people thought we really got married. One kid came up to Mrs. Kearse (Faye Kearse, the Family Living teacher) and asked, "How long do you think they'll last?' " said Hughes, 17, a senior at Citrus High.

The students knew it wasn't real and they joke around with each other about their new "family." "I always go up to him and call him Dad," Hughes said of John Chance, who played her father during the wedding.

For Hughes, playing the bride was enough to let her know she isn't ready to take the big step. "I was nervous. I was thinking how nervous I would be if I really did get married. Before, I couldn't wait to get married, but after this, it's a big deal. You have to think twice," she said.

Her "groom" agrees. Autry, 18, a senior at Citrus High, said he couldn't imagine saying the vows in a real wedding. "Before the wedding, I went through the vows, and I couldn't believe saying it for real," he said. "If I made them, I'd want to keep them. That's why I'd like to take my time."

Hughes, Autry and several other Citrus High students who were in the wedding party said they probably will wait until they are in their mid-20s before they consider marriage and several years after that before they start a family. They will look for a mate who respects their thoughts and feelings, a good companion and friend.

Erin Sensabaugh, 16, a junior at Citrus High who was a bridesmaid during the wedding, wants someone who is honest. "If you (lie) once, you keep doing it and your marriage becomes a lie," she said.

Autry said he will look for a mate with solid Christian beliefs. "I'd want them to believe in God. If you know your spouse believes in God, they'd be more apt to work it out and be faithful" if the marriage hits rocky spots.

When the option of divorce was brought up, their feelings were mixed. "You can't say, "No, I'm not going to make that mistake.' You have to decide what is best for both of you," said Chance, 17, a senior at Citrus High. "I think you should try and work things out before you throw it away," he said.

"If it's really causing misery and problems for the family, it's better to split up," Autry said.

It helps to know the person you want to marry. "I'll make sure I know them. Some people will date a couple of months and get married. I'd be engaged at least a year before I got married," Autry said.

Even then, though, things may not work. "I know someone who was engaged for four years and it just fell apart," Sensabaugh said.

If things did get bad, the students said there is one thing they would never want to be: unfaithful. Yet, if they were cheated on, forgiveness is possible. Chance and Autry said the cheating would be in the back of their minds and that time would tell whether everything could be pieced together.

Chance said the Family Living class has taught him what happens when you try to make it on your own. "It gives you a basic idea. . . . You don't go into a relationship blind. You're not going to be able to borrow $20 from your mom and dad. There isn't going to be anyone to fall back on," he said.

Hughes said the class has taught her that marriage is much more than a wedding, a honeymoon and a place to call your own. All of the students said they were concerned with financial issues.

"You don't realize the value of money until you work on your own," Chance said.

Teacher Kearse said the mock weddings are done every semester, but the one last month was a bigger event to celebrate vocational week. Kearse teaches two Family Living classes each semester with about 20 students in each class. Family Living also is offered at the county's other high schools.

The class, which is in the human sciences (formerly home economics) curriculum, is open for 10th- through 12th-graders at Citrus High School but is being considered as an elective for freshmen. "We don't seem to be having problems with the maturity level. We see a need for maybe the ninth-graders to come in," she said.

Discussions are about the family, its function and influence on the personality, dating, sexuality and the reproductive system. Abstinence is stressed, Kearse said. Other studies include the purpose of being engaged, the wedding, family planning, setting a budget, dealing with stress and planning for the future, Kearse said.

Parents are told about the curriculum, which falls into state-approved guidelines. "Most parents are glad. It's been such a successful class, we don't want to have parents say, "We didn't know,' " Kearse said.

Kearse, who also teaches homemaking skills and food preparation, said her Family Living classes have an even number of boys and girls. It's up to the individuals to put into practice what they have learned. "Some are really gaining from the course and some are just in there to get the credit," Kearse said. "Some of them come back and tell us how much it has helped them."

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