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Keeping our programs alive: sometimes it may be a struggle to keep career and technical programs alive and well in high schools and middle schools, but it's a battle worth fighting.

Sarah Raikes is one career and technical educator who has already proven herself a strong champion in defense of our programs. She has managed to rejuvenate not one, but two family and consumer sciences education programs in Kentucky.

After rebuilding the family and consumer sciences (FCS) education program at Campbellsville High School in Taylor County, Ky., Raikes moved to the high school in Washington County where she now teaches. The move was not made for reasons of money or prestige. She went there, says Raikes, because she was needed.

The program at Washington High School was without a certified teacher and was on the verge of being closed, but when Raikes arrived, she began implementing the same changes that had been so effective at Campbellsville High School. She upgraded both the name (it was still being called home economics) and the curriculum. She established career paths and career interest inventories--and she began a campaign of community service.

As her student volunteers became involved in numerous community projects, they created greater awareness of--and respect for--the high school's FCS program. Raikes had also employed community service in strengthening the Campbellsville program. But, at both schools, she made a point of connecting community service projects with the core content and curriculum of her classes.

Today, the FCS program at her high school is strong, and Raikes says that she knows her principal would not consider closing it because of its importance to the school and the students.

"If it was closed," states Raikes, "no one else could meet my students' needs. I know on a daily basis that I touch my students in a way that no one else does. I can tell you how my students feel about things and whether or not they are having a good day or a bad day."

It is the family and consumer sciences education content that allows her to achieve such a remarkable rapport with her students. "We have the perfect curriculum to do that," Raikes notes.

"Right now I have a student whose sister is battling cancer," she explains. "She can come to me anytime because she knows I'm there for her. The curriculum I teach is what allows that."

Her dedication to her students, her community, and career and technical education earned Sarah Raikes a very special honor last December. At the ACTE convention in New Orleans, she became the first recipient of a new award when she was named the ACTE-McDonald's Outstanding Teacher in Community Service.

One County's Story

When the board of education in St. Mary's County, Maryland, began considering elimination of family and consumer sciences classes in schools there, a campaign to keep the program in county schools was launched, and it soon spread beyond the borders of the Eastern Shore county.

On January 15, 2002, an article entitled "Home Ec Programs Fall on Hard Times" appeared in The Washington Post. The article centered around a pending decision by the St. Mary's County Board of Education to eliminate the family and consumer sciences classes to make time for an extra period of reading.

The Washington Post cited the eighth-grade reading test scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program as a prime factor in the school officials' plan. Three out of four St. Mary's eighth graders have not been able to read at the level considered satisfactory by the state of Maryland, and the 1998 Maryland State Task Force on Reading found that many middle and high school students are nonreaders. Adding to the argument for eliminating FCS was the fact that few teachers were becoming certified in the subject area.

But many teachers and parents wanted to keep the classes, and even the board members were split in their opinions.

Presenting the Case for FCS

While it was hard to dispute the need for improving the reading of the county's students, there were numerous arguments in favor of the classes. For one thing, there was the possibility that FCS classes could play their own role in improving the eighth graders' reading. After all, family and consumer sciences education has strong academic components as well as life skills components. FCS teachers point out that their students have to read and analyze food labels. They write essays on topics such as conflict resolution, and they write research papers on nutrition. They use math skills for calculating calorie content and in learning to balance checkbooks and budgets.

The difficulty for FCS may come from being able to document its benefits in a way that proves its case.

"In Congress and with the powers-that-be who provide the funding, they want statistics," says Sue Shackelford, the vice president of ACTE's Family and Consumer Sciences Education Division. "We can't prove that our students manage their finances better or have better health because they manage their nutrition better."

It may be difficult to prove because productive and responsible citizens tend to not have the statistical documentation that follows those with health, economic and social difficulties. Statistics are not difficult to find on people who have developed chronic health problems due to poor nutrition habits or for individuals who have to declare bankruptcy by the time they are out of college.

Mary Ellen Saunders with the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences suggests inviting parents, teachers and administrators into the classroom to see what is being taught. She says that, "There are myriad benefits to FCS, but the teachers may assume parents and other decision makers will understand the benefits sort of by osmosis." She also cautions against what she calls the "retroactive reactionary process going on," and advises doing a better job of marketing a program before it gets into trouble.

One suggestion Saunders offers is taking the students to school board meetings and to visit legislators. "Take the students who have accomplished something special and have them testify about what they have learned in FCS," suggests Saunders, "because they are the ones who can become the best marketers for the program."

Another argument, one that has been presented before in the pages of this magazine, is that middle school is a time for exploring new interests and potential future careers (see "A Time for Exploration" in the October 2001 Techniques). FCS classes offer middle school students the chance to explore some of the options life has to offer.

According to the Washington Post article, parents of special education students in St. Mary's County were especially concerned about elimination of the classes, because it meant a lost opportunity for their children to learn with students in a mainstream class.

"For my son, it was an opportunity to interact with his nondisabled peers," one parent of a developmentally delayed student told the newspaper.

While they also acknowledged that reading scores were in need of improvement, some parents questioned whether the answer was just another reading period.

The FCS Community Rallies

The Washington Post article prompted a letter to the editor from Barbara McFall of Roanoke, Va. She pointed out in her letter that, "many of the school reform documents currently embraced by the powers that be are advocating for precisely the types of learning that FCS provides ... experiential, personally relevant, community and family connected, hands on, and involving emotional and physical intelligence as well as mental."

Although those who teach family and consumer sciences education know about this and the other contributions made by the field, she wrote, "Our public sees only the stitchin' and stirrin'."

McFall, who has a master's in resource management from Virginia Tech, spent many years working in the business world and returned to family and consumer sciences about six years ago. "When you run a business, the problem is not teaching people how to do a specific thing but how to function as competent humans," she says. "You can teach a competent person to do almost anything."

That is the role that she thinks FCS is starting to take and needs to continue taking even more seriously. "I would like to see FCS reposition itself as one period during the day when students would work on real-world applications--when they could take all of the information they picked up in math, reading and science and use it to learn how to become real, functioning adults."

Even the Post article acknowledged that this is not the same old-fashioned course that was once called home economics, saying that everything about today's curriculum is different.

Another letter, this one penned by then-Maryland Association of Family and Consumer Sciences President Mary Ellen Shachat with help from the national association, was sent to Dr. Patricia Richardson, the superintendent of St. Mary's County Schools. In it, she expressed dismay at the possibility of cancellation of the FCS programs in county middle schools and stated her belief that the programs could actually be a part of the solution to the very problem that had prompted the board to consider their cancellation.

"We understand the need to improve students' reading capability," wrote Shachat, "and we reiterate that FCS programs reinforce and build academic skills through interactive programs that also teach critical life skills."

She then made her case with a list of life skills taught by FCS courses and detailed how reading skills are reinforced by the way those courses are taught. Furthermore, she raised the question: If FCS does not teach those important life skills, where will the children of time-challenged, dual-career parents learn them?

Urging the superintendent to consider the importance of an inclusive and well-balanced education for the county's students, Shachat said, "Pure academics without the integration of basic life knowledge and skills classes fall woefully short of preparing a student for the realities of higher education, lifelong learning, employment and family life."

Battles Are Won

When the St. Mary's County Board of Education met on January 24, 2002, the decision was made to maintain the FCS program for another two years.

There are probably a number of lessons to be learned from the St. Mary's story. We need to strengthen our efforts in publicizing the benefits of career and technical education programs such as family and consumer sciences so that crises such as these do not become more common.

The new accountability provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act may cause other school districts to look at eliminating career and technical education programs in favor of more teaching-to-the-test classes. But leaving no child behind should apply not only to reading and mathematics but also to life, and FCS courses play an important role in providing the skills that help young students grow into responsible citizens.

It is also important to bring more FCS-certified teachers into the classroom, so that programs are not eliminated simply because there is no one qualified to teach them. The year before Sarah Raikes moved to Washington County High School, there had been no certified FCS instructor from December until the end of the school year.

"There are fewer and fewer people going into our profession," notes Raikes, "and we are all struggling to get people to go into it."

That is a major hurdle in maintaining FCS programs in schools because, as she points out, "There has to be an energetic and dedicated person to keep a program going."

These are battles we will continue to face in keeping career and technical education programs alive. But at least for now, thanks to the strength of the case presented by family and consumer sciences educators and advocates, the program in one Maryland county has been saved. And thanks to the dedication of one outstanding teacher, two family and consumer sciences programs in Kentucky are alive and well.

Letter to The Washington Post from Barbara McFall


Dear Editor,

The most interesting aspect of Theola Labbe's article of January 21, 2002 (Home EC Programs Fall on Hard Times) is that so many of the school reform documents currently embraced by the powers that be are advocating for precisely the types of learning that FCS provides ... experiential, personally relevant, community and family connected, hands on, and involving emotional and physical intelligence as well as mental. Yet in practice FCS seems increasingly to be coerced into aligning with the readin', ritin', and `rithmetic folks. This subverts and dilutes the focus of our unique contribution to the educational experience.

Family and Consumer Sciences is organized around a core of "family functions," and the baseline function of the family has always been to provide a protected environment that nurtures (steers, educates, nourishes, and cares for) the young as they master developmentally appropriate skills. I don't see reading as the sole foundation for learning. I see NURTURE toward becoming a fully functioning, healthy, responsible, curious human AS THE FOUNDATION of all learning, most especially learner-centered, lifelong learning. And who nurtures multidisciplinary competence, real-world applications, health, responsibility, and diverse ways of knowing? FCS does.

The problem is that although we know this implicitly within the FCS practice, it has not been made explicit. Our public sees only the stitchin' and stirrin'.

I won't argue that the FCS image and delivery don't need an update. They do. (We are probably operating on a Shrine Circus level when we are capable of Cirque du Soleil.) But, I am passionate in my belief that scores would rise if EVERY CHILD, EVERY DAY, had one period to pull it together-to actively consolidate learning, to apply it to his/her understanding of self, to become competent in daily functioning, and to plan and begin implementing a personally satisfying future.

FCS practitioners have the skills and talent to provide that opportunity, to establish a surrogate family experience for kids who have no real family life, and to reinforce the experience of those who do. So mandated, FCS could 1) provide a foundation for learner-centered lifelong learning, 2) free academic content providers to concentrate on disciplinary skills add standards, and 3) supply the mentoring and asset base required to alleviate stress, depression, substance abuse, and violent and/or high-risk behaviors, and to refocus attention upon productive endeavors.

Barbara McFall
PO 21301
Roanoke, VA 24018

Letter to the Superintendent of St. Mary's County Schools from Mary Ellen Shachat

January 24, 2002
Dr. Patricia Richardson
Superintendent, St. Mary's County Schools
23160 Moakley St.
Leonardtown, Maryland 20650

Dear Dr. Richardson:

The members of the Maryland Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (MAFCS) have learned, with much dismay, that you are considering the cancellation of family and consumer sciences (FCS) programs in county middle schools to allow for a reading period. We understand the need to improve students' reading capability, and we reiterate that FCS programs reinforce and build academia skills through interactive programs that also teach critical life skills.

We are passionate about preparing students to live effectively as individuals, as family members, and as public citizens who are prepared to be a positive force within their community. Family and consumer sciences courses are an essential part of the middle and high school curriculum, which reinforce the theories, principles, and practices of the basic academic courses of math, social studies, science, reading and writing. FCS courses tie these domains of knowledge together in an integrated and holistic manner to address the knowledge and practical skills needed by every student.

We all recognize the value of requiring courses in math, science, social studies, composition, literature, etc. Too frequently however, FCS courses are viewed as electives and, therefore, less important than these core courses. MAFCS believes this is a narrow and shortsighted viewpoint. For instance ...

Students must not only understand scientific skills and principles but they must be able to balance a checkbook and craft a budget to live within their means. Research has shown that the fastest growing segment of the population declaring bankruptcy falls between the ages of 20-25. FCS courses teach them how to get the best value for their dollar through reading and comparing for value pricing.

Students' reading comprehension skills must be strong but they must also understand the basic concepts of good nutrition, particularly in an era of fast food. FCS courses teach them to read nutritional labels.

Students must have strong mathematical skills, but also must have strong skills in problem solving and critical thinking. Virtually every career and life choice involves these vital skills and middle and high school students are at the prime stage of their lives to develop these abilities. FCS courses provide hands-on experiences as well as literature about various careers for students to read and discuss.

Students must be able to write in a clear, and succinct manner, and they must also be able to construct a resume and a cover letter when applying for employment. Good writing begins with the ability to read and FCS courses stress good reading skills.

The list of life skills and how reading is enforced through FCS courses could go on, but I think the point has been made. Pure academics without the integration of basic life knowledge and skills classes fall woefully short of preparing a student for the realities of higher education, lifelong learning, employment and family life.

With dual career families and single parent households, parents are time challenged or may even lack effective life management skills themselves to teach their children how to lead successful lives. We must honestly ask ourselves who is teaching them about personal financial management, food and nutrition, appropriate and flattering clothing and apparel, creating a pleasing and efficient physical environment to be their home, etc.--in other words, how to budget and spend their money, how to shop wisely and dress appropriately for a variety of occasions, how to eat simply and nutritiously and get value for their money regardless of how it's spent, how to participate in society as a good citizen.

High school curricula must include family and consumer science programs in order to prepare adults of the future to function effectively in today's world ... the alternative is too bleak to imagine.

As family and consumer sciences professionals, we urge you to consider the need to ensure that the education of all students is well balanced and inclusive of these critical life skills. We appreciate the opportunity to provide our position and hope that you incorporate these concerns in your deliberations.
Mary Ellen Shachat, CFCS
President, Maryland Association of
Family and Consumer Sciences
COPYRIGHT 2003 Association for Career and Technical Education
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:family and consumer sciences
Author:Reese, Susan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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