HED:Vocational education comes of age
By Jennifer Ginn
POTTS CAMP – The subjects taught in home economics classes of days gone by could usually be summed up in three words – cooking and sewing.
Students – mostly girls – huddled around kitchen stoves, learning to make and present the perfect meal. Sewing machines hummed as girls learned to hem and fix zippers.
These days, things are a little different.
Students – boys as well as girls – are as likely to be learning about saturated and unsaturated fats as they are the fine points of setting up a budget. Computers, cameras, exercise equipment and, yes, even a stove line the walls of today’s classroom.
It’s not your mother’s home economics class anymore.
Potts Camp is one of 35 sites in Mississippi that has implemented the new family and consumer sciences program to replace the traditional home economics classes.
“The (way) labs were set up, one … (had) sewing machines, the other lab was kitchenettes,” said Ivy Alley, program coordinator for the state Department of Education. “That’s changed. We’ve gotten away from the clothing end of it and really focused on the family, health, nutrition and child development.”
In the past, home economics courses were fairly broad-based. They may have included chapters on finances and child care, but did not focus in-depth on either issue.
In the family and consumer sciences curriculum, six classes give a more expansive look at topics. Classes include family dynamics, child development, personal development, resource management, nutrition and wellness, and family and individual health.
Class assignments include more than just cooking eggs.
“Define organic and inorganic compounds,” said Irene Wilson Strickland, who is teaching the curriculum for the first time this year. This is her 26th year overall teaching home economics.
“Participate in building molecular models of organic and inorganic nutrients,” she said. “We spend a great deal of time studying nutrients. We’re concentrating now not on food preparation, but on what you eat, the nutrients and the contents of the food.”
New technology, buildings
Alley said the state is phasing-in the new family and consumer sciences program over the next several years.
Sixteen sites were chosen to pilot the program during the 1997-98 school year, including Tupelo, Shannon and Falkner high schools. Last year, 11 more schools were added, while eight have been chosen for the 1999-2000 school year.
Eventually, all school districts will be teaching the new classes, Alley said. They’re being phased-in gradually, she said, because of time, training and money.
Though the school districts must provide a renovated classroom with at least 1,500 square feet, the state provides all of the equipment needed to teach the curriculum.
In Potts Camp’s case, that amounted to about $72,000 worth of computers, kitchen appliances and other equipment. A new building – paid for as part of an $8 million bond issue passed in March 1998 – is home to the family and consumer sciences and agriculture vocational programs.
Meeting the need
Strickland said her classes will cover a variety of topics, everything from the importance of exercise to the building blocks of good character.
“What I try to explain to the children … is that home economics, family and consumer sciences, makes the effort to provide the skills to its students that the other teachers do not,” she said. “We’re trying to meet the needs of society.”
Alley said vocational education has changed from courses designed for those not planning on attending college to classes with a much broader appeal.
“Ocean Springs, they had to hire a new teacher because the enrollment went up,” she said. “It’s just unbelievable. They’re having to turn students away.
“We’re definitely trying to attract more boys. We have hundreds of boys (enrolled across the state). They need to know about family, children and resource management as much as the women.”
Alley cautioned that although the traditional home economics program has changed, the occupational and vocational programs – such as child care and nursing – have not. They still are being offered across the state.
Isis Jones, a senior in Strickland’s family dynamics class, has been taking home economics classes since junior high school. She said it is the simple things, such as the proper way to behave in public, that have been the most useful.
The most important thing I’ve learned about is “good manners,” Jones said. “I use them now. I like Ms. Strickland. She makes sure you learn a lot.”
Donnal Ash, superintendent of the Marshall County School District, said he plans to continue making changes in the district’s vocational program.
It currently includes family and consumer sciences and agriculture. There is no technical center in the district now, but one will be constructed when a new high school is completed in Byhalia in the fall of 2001.
“I think for the program to really come to life, we’re going to have to start offering two-and-a-half-hour courses in welding, carpentry, plumbing,” Ash said. These are “technical courses kids can get a good job in. I do know in the future, it will be centered more towards technology.”
The vocational classes now offered at Potts Camp Attendance Center include:
– Agriculture production classes prepare students to enter occupations related to crops and livestock.
– Introduction to agriscience gives students a grounding in scientific method, human relations and the basic principles of animal science, food and fiber science, entomology and biotechnology.
Family and consumer sciences
– Family dynamics builds skills in family and parenting decisions.
– Child development teaches skills in the physical, social, intellectual and emotional growth of a child.
– Personal development focuses on positive relationships in the family, peer groups, workplace and community.
– Resource management focuses on how people make decisions, solve problems and use resources to reach goals.
– Nutrition and wellness stresses the importance of proper nutrition and overall wellness in life.
– Family and individual health sharpens skills for achieving social and mental health in society, with lessons on substance abuse and prevention, safety and first aid.