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Schools moving beyond home ec

December 2, 2018

Natalie Brandon has no doubt that her Life 101 class at Concordia Lutheran High School helped her get a job at Pizza Hut.

The class prepared her to dress for an interview and gave her this important job-hunting advice: follow-up in person on résumés submitted online.

“Pretty much everything” is helpful in the class, Brandon said.

Now in its second year at Concordia, the course falls under family and consumer sciences : an umbrella term for classes that let students explore culinary arts and hospitality, nutrition, child development, fashion design, interior design, and human and social services, among other topics.

Monday is Family and Consumer Sciences Day.

Although the academic discipline was previously known as home economics, educators prefer the labels not be used interchangeably.

Classes have evolved with society and technology. The traditional image of home economics is “everything that has to do with the home,” but courses offered today also prepare students for careers, said Renee Sigmon, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Carroll High School.

Carol Werhan, an American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences board member, agreed.

“We can support almost any career with our foundational knowledge,” Werhan said.

The Indiana Department of Education approved about 40 high school family and consumer sciences classes for this academic year.

Titles include Biochemistry of Foods, Consumer Economics, Education Professions, Fashion and Textiles Careers, Interpersonal Relationships and Personal Financial Responsibility.

Schools aren’t required to offer the classes, department spokesman Adam Baker said by email.

Every Allen County public school district offers family and consumer sciences classes, although course selection varies. East Allen County Schools, for example, offers six courses at Leo; Food Science I and II through the agriculture education program at Woodlan; and none at East Allen University, New Haven or Heritage.

Eager for life skills

Students seem to crave the skills the courses teach.

Bishop Luers High School, which doesn’t offer family and consumer sciences classes, began a Home Economics Club this fall. Meetings have consistently attracted at least 35 students : boys and girls : and have featured such activities as tie-dying shirts, sewing, baking cupcakes and cooking spaghetti, adviser Faith Andert said.

“The reception has been so great with the students but also staff,” Andert said, adding her colleagues have suggested lesson ideas.

Along with social aspects, the club appeals to students because many haven’t learned basic skills they will need once on their own, including how to do laundry and repair ripped clothing, Andert said.

The club meets about every other Friday.

“We could probably meet twice a week and we wouldn’t run out of things,” Andert said.

Concordia was able to offer more electives, including Life 101, because a change to the class period structure created room for more classes, teacher Lizzy Hoham said.

Life 101 : or Adult Roles and Responsibilities, as named by the state : uses the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” which students get to keep, and addresses such topics as social skills, financial literacy, goal setting, time management, menu planning, nutrition and common scams, Hoham said.

Senior Mamed Ramazanli enrolled because he thought the class would be a tremendous help : and it is, he said.

Budgeting lessons provided perspective about how he spends his money, Ramazanli said, and the semester trip to Kroger will have applicable uses in college.

Students took a shopping list to the grocery store to find and price ingredients for a three-day menu they created. Their hypothetical budget was $30.

“In college I don’t want to live off ramen noodles,” Ramazanli said.

Students in Southwest Allen County Schools take six-week family and consumer sciences classes in sixth and seventh grades.

Sixth-graders learn about child care, sewing basics and some cooking while seventh-graders focus on nutrition and wellness while continuing to hone their cooking skills, longtime Woodside Middle School teacher Jeanne Hoffman said.

The class is offered as a semesterlong elective to eighth-graders, Hoffman said. The popular course includes more sewing lessons : students make either pajama pants or shorts : and cooking, with a focus on meals.

Along with exercising students’ creativity, the tasks teach students about time management, problem-solving, communication and teamwork, Hoffman said.

Students appreciate learning lifelong skills that, for whatever reason, she said, might not be taught at home.

“These kids are so excited to come into my class,” Hoffman said.

Teachers wanted

Nationally, enrollment in family and consumer sciences classes has declined since the 2002-03 academic year, when 5.5 million students took such courses.

A national survey found enrollment averaged just under 3.5 million in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 years, according to a 2014 article published in the Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Werhan wrote the report, which also found the number of family and consumer sciences teachers dropped from about 37,500 to nearly 28,000.

She noted the lack of teacher preparation programs for that academic discipline and low enrollment in the remaining programs resulted in unmet demand.

“Many respondents indicated that the inability to hire highly qualified FCS teachers has forced districts to make the hard decision to either close a program or hire teachers who are not fully prepared for the scope of work of FCS teachers,” Werhan wrote.

The situation hasn’t improved, said Werhan, who studies the issue every five years.

Indiana had an average 1,134 family and consumer sciences teachers in 2010-11 and 2011-12, the nationwide survey found. Last year, there were 756 such licensed teachers employed by a school last year, said Baker, the education department spokesman.

Carroll High School, however, has increased its family and consumers sciences staff from 1.5 full-time equivalent teachers to four full-time teachers since Sigmon joined 16 years ago, she said.

Northwest Allen County Schools’ enrollment growth contributed to the expansion, Sigmon said, but educators also worked to make the courses appealing to students.

Ball State and Purdue universities offer the only family and consumer sciences teaching preparation programs in Indiana.

The field partly faces a public relations problem. The public doesn’t understand it is the evolution of home economics and how its courses support communities, Werhan said.

A faculty member with the Purdue program, Werhan said students are encouraged to do more than tell people their major. They should describe the classes they will be able to teach, she said, including nutrition, personal finance and human development.

Enrollment in the Purdue program has grown from 15 to 29 students since Werhan joined in 2015, she said, noting about 10 percent of students are men.

The Ball State program experienced a slight increase in recent years, but freshman enrollment : usually no more than 10 : isn’t enough to meet the demand, faculty member Pam Stigall said by email.

Recruitment problems reflect a broader challenge to attract students to teaching, she said.

“Without our state looking at the teaching profession, we will continue to lose students to business,” Stigall said.

Principals often call Werhan wanting to pitch their schools to the college students.

“My students have multiple job offers,” she said.

asloboda@jg.net

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