By Linda Dillman
The home economic classrooms and curriculum of the past are a far cry from the high tech equipment and lessons of the modern classroom.
Gone are desks outfitted with sewing machines and, while ovens still line the walls of labs like one at Canal Winchester Middle School, the meals pulled from their wire racks are more likely based on caloric information rather than fat-laden entrees.
A striking change is in the lessons taught by instructors. Today’s students are learning skills in middle school that decades ago were rarely explored, even at the high school level.
“Family & Consumer Sciences, the name for what use to be home economics, is geared towards providing students with instruction to empower them to take action for the well-being of themselves and others in the home, community, and world,” said Canal Winchester Middle School instructor Heather Eastep. “Skills students learn in Work & Family help them develop life skills needed to be an effective individual, family member, and member of society.”
According to Eastep, middle school and high school students engage in lessons and units about healthy lifestyles and preparing/cooking food for themselves and others. They learn about food safety, demonstrate personal financial literacy, become consumer savvy, manage life plans, nurture and care for children, build relationships, design a career blueprint and manage personal transitions.
After exploring concepts and engaging in various hands-on activities, eighth graders move into a simulation activity where they “live” in one of two imaginary towns – Rivertown and Walchville.
“Unfortunately, everyone cannot start at the top and make tons of money, so the students begin with a simple entry level job,” said Eastep. “They select a job based on their skills and talents and then have to apply for the job. Once they are hired they have to find a place to live, but must first determine their budget.”
She said after their budget is set and they find a home, students must decide if they want a roommate.
“Students then move through the simulation during the semester by paying bills every other week (six bill sessions are completed by the end of the semester) for their apartment rental, utilities, food, life’s events, and unexpected occurrences,” said Eastep.
The concept of credit and the use of credit cards are discussed. Students complete a credit card application and determine whether or not they want a credit card.
“Some students end up using their credit card because they simply cannot afford their bills,” Eastep said in describing the classroom simulation. “Students have to decide how to cover all of their bills if they do not have enough money in their checking accounts. Investing and saving money lessons are completed and students begin to see that spending money when they really do not have much is not a good idea.”
Middle schoolers Audrey Jenkins and Hillary Counts agree the financial lessons covered in the classroom opened their eyes to the real world and make them more cautious about tapping into the credit card system when they get older.
Eastep said learning financial skills in middle school is a challenge because it is something new, but the knowledge lets students connect to the real world and be more appreciative of their own lifestyle. It also makes them think about the unexpected.
“My mom said when she was in school, she didn’t learn these skills,” said Jenkins. “Credit cards surprised me. I hope I don’t charge everything on a credit card and not be in debt. It’s more about needs than wants.”
Counts was not only “shocked” by credit card interest rates, she was also surprised by the amount of fat calories in fast food when discussions turned to nutrition.
“We have learned a lot about nutrition,” said Counts. “My mom was even talking with me about making something for Thanksgiving. We have fun in our class with what we do because it’s also something we’ll do later in life.”