FACS: Not your parents' home economics

by Renee Hunter
Mike Kemp photos

Conway High School’s Family and Consumer Science Department teaches essential life skills to about a third of the school’s 2,300 students.

“We are the largest elective on campus,” said Leslee Tell, one of the department’s five instructors.

Two years ago, the department was reconfigured and several new courses were added. Funding comes primarily from Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act grants. One of the grants applied for recently is for 50 Kindle Fires loaded with course-related books. Because of the CATEI focus on technology, Kindles were more certain of approval than print books.

“We’re very good at getting grants approved,” Tell said.

Each teacher has specialized training in her particular field.

“Because there are five of us, we all teach what we love,” said Tell, who teaches Food Science. “Nobody loves food like I do.”
“I love the topic; I really do,” echoed Erin Hightower regarding her Personal and Family Finance class, which covers “anything that has to do with money” — job skills, paychecks, taxes, apartment hunting, comparison shopping and the effects of advertising.

“I tell them, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Hightower.

Tell also teaches Family and Consumer Science, a one-year course (equivalent to Home Economics I) that provides an introduction to the other five offerings.

“I call it the teaser class,” she said.

“The whole idea of Family and Consumer Science is to help people improve their quality of life,” said Melanie Bell, who also teaches Food Science, as well as Housing and Interior Design.

The course names are descriptive:

Human Relations focuses on relating well to others, beginning with decision-making skills, without which human relations don’t work.

Nutrition and Wellness includes a food component and an exercise component. Every other Friday, a trainer from Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center leads the class in simple exercises that can be done at home without fancy equipment.

“This is something I’m really excited about,” said Hightower, who teaches the course.

Food Science uses a scientific approach — applied chemistry and biology — to understanding food and food systems. Last year, students purchased pumpkins and harvested the meat, which they boiled, pureed and analyzed for sugar and water content.

“They’re interested in how much non-food is in processed food,” Tell said.

In her design class, Bell begins with construction basics and moves to elements of design.  

“For most people, a house is their biggest expense,” Bell said. Knowing about construction methods, prices and timeline can help avoid mistakes, whether in buying or remodeling.

“To me, it’s just good basic consumer knowledge,” she added.

Tina Lampe teaches three courses. Child Development and Parenting are prerequisites for Orientation to Teaching, a new offering. Child Development covers such topics as prenatal care, avoiding drugs and limiting caffeine during pregnancy, birth defects, teen pregnancy and breast-feeding. The class views a video of an actual birth and tours Conway Regional Medical Center’s labor and delivery area. The Parenting class discusses such topics as family and discipline types, foster care and adoption. Orientation to Teaching gives students a taste of what it’s like to be a teacher, which can save them time in college.

Sarah Fisher’s Childcare Management class also explores a career. On completion of the class, students are certified by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Education to work in entry-level childcare positions. Because hands-on practice is a requirement, students make lesson plans and teach them at local preschools. They also design a childcare facility that fulfills Arkansas’ licensing requirements and “buy” furniture and supplies to outfit it.

Fisher also teaches Leadership and Service Learning, a new class designed to create the next generation of community leaders.

“They are required to do things that are outside themselves,” Fisher said, which includes serving as mentors to elementary school students.

The department has recently instituted a pilot program of the Center for Educator Recruitment Retention and Advancement, a South Carolina-based non-profit designed to help meet teacher recruitment and retention needs. Other area schools are already showing an interest in this innovative training program.  

“It’s a pretty awesome deal for us,” Tell said.