- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

Junior Lovo takes pride in learning to use a sewing machine. The seventh-grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington knows the skill might come in handy. He says he would like to own a sewing machine one day. He studies sewing as part of his Teen Living class, which is offered through the school's Family and Consumer Sciences Department.
"It's good to learn about it because you might need it later in your life," Junior, 13, says while threading his sewing-machine needle during class. Later in the course, he plans to make a pillow.
The days of "home economics" classes for girls only, in which the young ladies learned to cook and sew, are finished, says Mary Ellen Saunders, director of public policy and professional development at the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences in Alexandria. Even that organization, formerly known as the American Home Economics Association, changed its name in 1994.
Today, both boys and girls in area public schools learn practical skills under the umbrella of family and consumer sciences. Students are taught about topics such as child care, cooking, nutrition, sewing, grooming, checkbook balancing, budgeting, healthy relationships and prevention of teen pregnancies, primarily through abstinence. Similar courses across the nation may be known as classes in life skills, human ecology, human environmental sciences, or work and family studies.
"There is no edict that you have to call it 'family and consumer sciences,'" Ms. Saunders says. "We wanted to remove the image that had grown out of 'home economics,' which was girls who were cookie bakers and apron makers."

Lynn Wines, instructor of the Teen Living class at Thomas Jefferson, says she tries to dispel the stereotype that only girls and women should use a sewing machine. She says it's important for all her students to know how to mend or make clothes themselves. For practice, her eighth-grade students make unisex items such as sweat shirts.
"I remind my students that some of the best tailors and designers are men," Ms. Wines says. "We're not making aprons or skirts. This is not a curriculum that is phasing out. We are trying to keep up with the times."
While taking the nine-week elective class, seventh-grade students also learn about proper nutrition, grooming practices, cooking, child care and budgeting. In the sixth grade, students are exposed to a 20-day exploratory class, which is designed to help them decide if they want to take the elective the following year.
Eighth-grade students can take the elective Life Management every day for the entire year. They learn such skills as cooking ethnic foods, which helps expand their cultural knowledge, Ms. Wines says.
Sarah Lynn teaches eighth-grade girls about preventing an unwanted pregnancy in the class Taking Charge, an abstinence-based program at Thomas Jefferson, also part of the Family and Consumer Sciences Department. The school is considering offering separate Taking Charge classes for boys.
Health classes currently provide the main instruction students receive about sex education. .Because educators are trying all means possible to prevent teen pregnancies, they have added instruction through the family and consumer sciences courses.
Although Ms. Lynn may have only about 15 girls in the class, her influence on those students multiplies when they serve as role models for their peers. During the semester-long course, students work on thinking critically, making good decisions and setting goals.
"If they can do those three things, they will be able to stay out of trouble," Ms. Lynn says. "These classes prepare students to be responsible adults. It helps them plan for their future education and careers and a strong family when they decide the time is right for them."
Jenny MacKinnell, who teaches Taking Charge classes through the Family and Consumer Sciences Department at Gunston Middle School in Arlington, believes that class's Baby Think It Over assignments make her students reconsider having a child before they are adequately prepared.
This particular project includes taking a doll with a miniaturized computer in it home for the weekend. The doll is programmed to cry throughout the day, forcing students to figure out why "the baby" is upset. The doll interrupts their lives in much the same way a real child would for a diaper change or a feeding. When students return to class on Monday, Ms. MacKinnell checks the computers in the plastic dolls to see how many times students missed tending to their pretend babies.
At the beginning of the course, Ms. MacKinnell sends a permission slip home to parents detailing the personal nature of the course and its assignments. This is in addition to the original schedule sheet that parents had to approve when the students signed up for the class.
"Teen pregnancy is becoming a real problem," Ms. MacKinnell says. "It's definitely happening a lot more in the middle school. You constantly have to drill in their heads about choices and consequences. I tell the truth. I don't lie. I tell them like it is. I'm open and honest."
To emphasize the responsibility of caring for a child, Ms. MacKinnell makes her students call her at 3 a.m. during the weekend and leave a message on her answering machine. She wants them to understand what it feels like to wake up in the early morning to tend to a newborn. She turns off the ringer on her phone so she doesn't hear the numerous calls while sleeping.
Gloria Robles, 13, who takes part in Ms. MacKinnell's Taking Charge class, says she is beginning to understand the difficulty of having a child as a teen-ager.
"Having a real baby is tough," Gloria says while reflecting on what she has learned from Ms. MacKinnell.

Marjorie Eiserike, who teaches child development through the Family and Consumer Sciences department of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, educates her students through a preschool laboratory. Parents who enroll their 3- and 4-year-olds in the lab pay the high school about $400 for the year for snacks and some supplies. They are aware that ninth- through twelfth-grade students will be learning by interacting with their children.
As part of the course, the students analyze the children's physical, social, intellectual and emotional progress. They plan and teach lessons as well as create bulletin-board displays, Mrs. Eiserike says. Many of the students hope this class will prepare them to become future teachers, child psychologists, social workers or parents.
"It's really hands-on learning," Mrs. Eiserike says. "The experiences they have are real-life experiences."
Victoria Oldak, 16, of Bethesda, who is a student in Mrs. Eiserike's class, says she is considering becoming a teacher. She is planning to share "The Flower Garden Song" with the children in the preschool to teach them how flowers grows.
"I like playing with kids and learning how lessons are planned," the 11th-grader says as she works on a poster of the lyrics of the song.
Signe Garms, who teaches Nutrition Science and Cultures and Cuisines next door to Mrs. Eiserike at Walt Whitman High School, says she instructs her students on the importance of having the family come together for meals. She discusses food-safety issues and how to plan healthy meals. Mrs. Garms' courses also fall under the Family and Consumer Sciences Department.
"By making chocolate-chip cookies, they realize there is a cup of butter in them and why they shouldn't sit on the couch and eat a whole bag of Chips Ahoy," Mrs. Garms says. "Kids are really confused as to what is proper nutrition."
In Nutrition Science, Mrs. Garms has her students design a diet and exercise routine using a computer program called Diet Analysis, which is software designed by Wadsworth.
Nader Mehran, 17, a member of the course, says he enjoys the project because he is considering taking premedical classes focused on nutrition in college. He is training to complete a triathlon and hopes the diet he creates will help him succeed.
"I eat a big meal in the morning high in carbohydrates," the 12th-grader says, explaining the routine he created for the assignment. "I eat every two hours to keep my metabolic rate going. I work out from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day. Then I try to have a good meal with a lot of protein to rebuild damaged tissue."
Mrs. Garms says when she started teaching about 20 years ago, her classes consisted mostly of girls. She is pleased with the expansion of the field and the interest young men have taken in her classes.
"Now I almost have more guys than girls," Mrs. Garms says. "They like to eat. They like to cook. They are very motivated. So many things are not so gender-specific anymore."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide