CFLE in Context: Family Life Education in the Public School Setting

by Sandra Brock, CFLE

My name is Sandra Brock and I am a Certified Family Life Educator who teaches in the public school system. I have been teaching family life education for 24 years; 7 years at the high school level and 17 years at the middle school level. I left college in 1985 with a B.S. degree in Fashion Merchandising and Design and Home Economics Education from Florida State University. Over my twenty-four years of teaching, I have had the opportunity to serve on advisory boards for my school, held state and national positions with the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and the Florida Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, served on the State of Florida Textbook Adoption Committee, and recently authored and published a child development and babysitting curriculum for middle /junior high school age students.

When I reflect back on my teaching philosophy written 25 years ago, I realize it is still as relevant today as when I initially wrote it. My philosophy was to prepare my students for the real world, real life and help them develop into positive contributors to society. As a family life educator, I teach life skills and how to respond and deal with life situations daily. I look at the "whole child" and realize we need to be preparing students for Life as well as preparing them to score high on state tests. Today much of teaching requires teachers to "teach to the test". I believe life is the "Final Test" and therefore I strive to prepare my students for their role as productive individuals at home, work and in their community.

Family life education falls under the umbrella of home economics or what is now called Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS). The name FCS was adopted in 1992 at the same time the curriculum was updated to address the contemporary issues and needs of youth and families of the 21st century.

Family life education concepts and skills are incorporated throughout the curriculum for FCS which can be divided into three parts. First, developing a sense of FAMILY, topics discussed include interpersonal relationships with an awareness of self, family and friends including teen dating violence and family dynamics; social skills including manners and etiquette; communication skills both verbal and non-verbal; child development and parenting; virtues that help develop a social consciousness and a "moral compass"; and housing including personal living space, recycling and safety and care of the home.

Second, becoming an educated CONSUMER, topics include financial literacy with a focus on money management, being a savvy consumer, advertising influences and consumer behavior; part-time jobs and work-skills are also addressed which include how to fill out a job application and the interviewing process- what to wear and what to say.

Third, nutrition and textile SCIENCES, topics include nutrition, learning the key nutrients, food pyramid, reading labels, meal planning and weight management; food preparation including safety and sanitation in the kitchen, measuring and reading recipes, food shopping and hands-on cooking labs; clothing and textiles includes shopping and caring for clothing. All these concepts and skills are inter-connected to family life, giving young people the knowledge necessary to help prepare for life in a very complex global society.

The most challenging part of my job is convincing policy and government officials to keep family life education programs alive. Having the desire and ability to communicate and market your program is critical to the success of that program especially in public education! As a public school teacher, I communicate and market my program internally (within the school building) and externally (within the community, state and nation). Some of the ways I "internally" promote my subject is to invite the guidance counselors, principals, superintendent and school board members to my classroom to meet students and view the classroom setting. I serve on the school advisory council comprised of the movers and shakers in the school building. I "externally" promote at the community level by contacting the local newspaper/media for coverage of special projects/events taking place in my classroom. Writing letters regarding the importance of family life education to State Representatives, the Governor and the First Lady and President are also ways to promote "externally" at the state and national level. I believe every 13-15 year old should be required to take a life skills course. The main objective at all times is to articulate the skills and competencies students receive by being enrolled in family life classes. Unfortunately when education budgets get tight, these are the programs that get cut first. Some people believe life skills should be taught at home. For the most part parents are just as ill equipped to teach nutrition, financial management, communication skills, preparing for the world of work, etc., as they are to teach biology or mathematics. Some parents can do it; most cannot. Consider the high divorce rate, childhood and adult obesity and severe financial debt of young adults and college students in today's society. A daily scan of the newspaper/television, in the last several years, shows that we are in an epidemic seeing corporate officers, musicians, celebrities, politicians, athletes who have attained fame and wealth but lack the ability to have quality life skills.

The most rewarding part of my job is the opportunity to be creative in the classroom. Family and Consumer Sciences has national and state educational standards that must be followed, however the course content still allows for you to "teach with a twist". In other words, you can put your personality and creativity into your lessons. Initiating business partnerships and community service projects between school and local businesses can be very effective and generate extra dollars for the classroom. For example, I wrote a grant and partnered with our local Holocaust Museum. The educational objective was to teach young people about the Holocaust, create greater understanding of the importance of family, create a better understanding of virtues and the value of human life and show how food has a symbolism, history and heritage that help link generations of families. The sponsor for this grant was Sweetbay Supermarket, their funding allowed us to purchase class sets of the Holocaust Survivor Cookbook for our social studies departments and my class. Money was also provided to purchase food to prepare various recipes. Educational standards were definitely met but we took the standards to a whole new level and in the process reached over 900 students in our building!

Another example of "teaching with a twist", when covering the topics of social skills, careers and housing, with a focus on manners and etiquette in the home and workplace and housing and home furnishings, I partnered with a local country club and housing developer. Students spent the day in a development, first learning about all the different careers in the food and beverage industry, spending time touring the country club and having a sit down three course luncheon which allowed them to practice the manners learned in the classroom. The second half of the day was spent learning about careers in the housing industry. Students were shown different phases of construction, the interior decorating and landscape design. This experience covered educational objectives for careers, housing, communication and social skills.

Teaching young people the skills they need for success in daily life ultimately makes for stronger families and builds more effective communities. When students come back years later and tell me how much my class meant to them, and when parents praise the class for what their children are learning, it reaffirms that I am dealing with the core of what people most need to know to live satisfying and productive lives. It affirms that I am addressing basic issues which are the foundations of a healthy society and for me both personally and professionally, there is no greater reward.

Sandra Brock, CFLE, is a Family and Consumer Sciences Teacher at Pine Ridge Middle School in Naples, Florida.