Beyond 'home ec'
The subject is no longer called home economics.
“It’s a program that is trying to evolve with the times,” said Kirsten Yargus, the family and consumer sciences teacher at Genoa-Kingston High School. “We don’t have as many stay-at-home moms. Most families need that dual income.”
Family and consumer sciences classes are evolving to focus on the changing responsibilities teens face in personal, family and job situations. The classes help the students learn skills needed to become self-sufficient and ready for employment.
“Over half of my students have jobs now,” said Christine Johnson, consumer education teacher at Sycamore High School. Last week, she taught her classes how to fill out state and federal income tax forms.
“This is one my favorite things that I teach because it’s so useful,” she said. In another section of her class she teaches the basics of buying an automobile, noting that “it seems like every semester we have somebody in class buy a car.”
Topics covered by family and consumer science vary from school to school. Almost all schools offer at least one cooking class, and other subjects might include child development, parenting, interior design, clothing and textiles, adult living and consumer education. Most schools offer the class as an elective.
Yargus said that this year, for the first time, she has boys in her child development class. But both she and Inga Arnold, cooking teacher at DeKalb High School, say that their cooking classes are not dominated by girls.
“I have been doing this for 15 years and I have always had more boys, or at least an equal number,” Arnold said.
The boys in Arnold’s Cooking 2 class have various reasons for wanting to learn to cook.
“I don’t usually cook from scratch so that is something I wanted to learn,” said senior Shaun Johnson, 17, as the class made pizza dough and toppings at the classroom’s six kitchen stations. The class baked their pizzas the following day.
Senior Michael Olson, 17, he wants to be able to cook on his own when he goes to college next year to save on the cost of dining out.
Senior Devin Vanwalleghan, 18, plans to make cooking his career.
“I really like cooking and I want to go to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America),” he said.
Popular television shows also make cooking appealing to people from all walks of life.
“We watch ‘Iron Chef’ all the time. We go to each others’ houses and watch the shows,” said junior Ivan Trejo, 17. “I like to watch it because it gives me ideas (for things) I can make at home. I have made some of those things but they don’t always work out the way they did on the show.”
Arnold stresses the importance of studying and following the recipes, especially for beginning cooks, as well as taking safety precautions during every step of the cooking process.
Yargus said that prior to her introductory food classes, many of the students’ only cooking experience has been to “do ramen noodles and an easy mac and cheese,” noting that many of her beginning students have never cracked an egg.
Similarly, Johnson said that she polls her students at the beginning of each semester on a number of topics, including whether they balance their checkbooks or reconcile their accounts at the end of the month.
Most semesters, not a single hand goes up. She knows that she has important work to do before the students graduate into the real world.
“I have had many students from the past who came up to me to thank me for teaching them how to balance a checkbook,” Johnson said.