Updating Home Economics for the 21st Century

Sewanhaka School District gives overview of family and consumer science courses.

Home Economics courses aren’t as what many students from decades past remember.

“I’m sure many people in this room have no idea what we really do now because it’s changed an awful lot,” Joan Chieffo, coordinator of the family and consumer sciences program for the Sewanhaka School District, said.

Chieffo gave a “glimpse” of what goes on in the classrooms during a presentation at Tuesday night’s meeting of the board of education in the third floor Sewanhaka board room. The course is required at the middle school level and takes the forms of various electives in high school level.

Formally known as home economics, the program covers both academic and career technical education that focuses on the needs of individuals and families.

The state-mandated home and career course teaches skills in seventh grade designed to help mid-level students “live in a society of constant change” by teaching how to think constructively, make sound decisions, solve problems and manage resources.

It requires 75 percent hands-on experience, which include posters, group presentations, internet research and basic nutrition preparation.

“There’s one specific assignment I think is probably one of my favorites, if not my favorite,” Chieffo said, referring to where seventh graders are asked to plan a pizza party using $150 they draw from their own checking account, where they have to order the pizzas, drink, choose the number of attendees, plan an activity and purchase a new outfit. “So the seventh grade students think ‘hey, we’re going to the internet lab to plan a party and shop, that’s cool.’ But we know that what they’re really doing is learning decision making process, goal setting, budgeting, comparison shopping and the workings of a checking account; math skills and common core at its very best.”

One of the high school electives is child psychology development, which is available in all five buildings for Adelphi University credit. The course introduces students to the broad topic of child psychology development and is recommended for anyone interested in education or children – like parenting – and focuses on development of children from conception to school-age.

Another elective, independent life skills, is offered for one-semester as a “college survival course” for a young adult who will soon become self-sufficient. It is designed to prepare students for overall independent living and survival skills as they prepare for life in college or as wage earners. The class includes projects in career exploration, budgeting, financial planning, home decoration, interior design, consumer education and basic clothing maintenance.

“How many of you can and do hem your own pants?” Chieffo asked. “And if not, you need to pay a tailor every time you need to put a button on?”

Food and Nutrition is another one-semester elective and a prerequisite to culinary program that is designed around selecting, preparing and serving food, nutritional techniques and food service management.

The culinary arts program is also offered for Suffolk County Community College credit. It is a double period class housed at Carey, but is open to all students to prepare for work related activity to get hands-on experiences like work in the kitchen, field trips, event planning, catering projects and guest speakers. Special consideration is given to special education students. In one exercise, students ran a short-order diner where faculty came in and students prepared the food for them.

Family and Career Community Leaders of America is a club that offers students community service opportunities in extracurricular activities. It is currently available in Carey, New Hyde Park and Sewanhaka with the goal of having it in all five.

“It’s the only discipline that’s used in everyday living and is a reinforcement of every other school discipline that they study in school,” Chieffo said.

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