The Family Consumer Science (FCS) classroom at Cambridge High School is cluttered - cluttered with activity.
Near FCS teacher Alania Tharp’s desk are a number of high-tech doll babies waiting for students to take home and care for them. In front of her desk are several boxes full of ingredients for baking bread and other goodies. In the back of the room are display boards being worked on by culinary students. At another table, students are packing Family Fun bags to be distributed.
The activity is part of the Family Consumer Science program at the High School. A program that until this school year, had been dormant for many years.
What was once known as home economics has returned to CHS as a robust program with a variety of classes that include child development, personal wellness, career and college readiness, financial literacy, culinary fundamentals, global foods, and food science. Is it any wonder the classroom is cluttered?
Next year, the program will expand to include an intro to FCS that will give students a taste of everything the program has to offer including textiles, fashion design, interior design and career and college readiness.
As one may guess by reading the course names, most of what students learn in Family Consumer Science classes are life skills.
“It is about teaching students to be functional adults, which is our goal,” Tharp, who is in her first year at Cambridge, said. “I hope when my students leave here, they are well-rounded, able to take care of themselves, able to give back and function in their community, and not have to rely on someone to always do for them.”
Tharp grew up helping in her kitchen at home, participated in 4-H projects and took FCS classes in high school. Unfortunately, many of the students taking her classes now have not had similar experiences. Learning how to do chores like washing dishes, doing laundry, and measuring ingredients for a recipe are not tasks that are being learned at home, so they learn them in the FCS lab.
“We live in a time now where it is easy to run through McDonalds or order a pizza, because we are busy, or we don't have the time. '' Tharp said. “It is also because of lack of knowledge. You’d be surprised what you think kids should know -- like washing dishes -- but they have no idea.
“You’d think washing dishes would be something everyone would know, but it is not,” Tharp continued. “Some of the kids we have here don’t have that opportunity so when we do labs here, they get to explore and experience. I try to be hands-off so they can figure it out. Some of our kids don’t have kitchens at home, so this is their opportunity to play and learn.”
Students get that opportunity in the food classes. In the culinary fundamentals class, they learn to measure correctly, how to use utensils like knives, and other skills like how to break down a whole chicken. In the food science class, they play with food and ingredients to see how they react with each other.
In the global foods class, they learn about foods from different parts of the world.
“Right now, students are working on international food projects where they research a country to learn about the history, what it is known for, the geography of the country because geography influences what is grown there and what are the common foods from that country,” Tharp explained. “They will then plan a menu and make a poster board to share their research.”
Then, as an end of course project, each group of students will create a food truck that serves the food from the country they researched.
“The scenario is that they are creating or re-creating a country at EPCOT in Disney World,” Tharp said. “One of the reasons visitors go to EPCOT is the food.”
As part of the project, the class will also host an International Food Day at the school where each student will prepare a dish from their country and welcome other students to come and taste their creations.
Another popular class is child development where students learn how babies develop and how to care for babies. One of the more attention-grabbing assignments is to take home the high-tech baby doll and take care of it for a number of days.
“The dolls are pretty realistic, and I can tell how well they are cared for while the students have them,” Tharp said. “I can see how many times they’ve been diapered, how many times their clothes have been changed, the temperature of the baby, if they’ve been fed and more.”
The experience certainly helps students learn how much time and effort it takes to care for a child. They also plan a budget that includes the cost of buying baby food and diapers and paying for childcare and other expenses.
Other classes include college and career readiness where they learn about filling out applications, financial aid, résumé writing; and personal wellness where students learn coping skills, stress management, and time management.
Tharp also teaches financial literacy, a topic that is getting attention across the country and in Ohio where it was recently made a mandatory subject for students.
“Financial literacy is a big passion of mine,” said Tharp who testified in favor of legislation making it part of the course requirements for every student. “Students need to learn the basics of being able to take care of themselves.”
“I teach them about checking accounts and how to write checks,” Tharp continued. “Students say they don’t use checks, but there are such things as checks, and they need to learn how to use them. They need to learn how to balance a checkbook and realize that what is showing in the online account can be different from what is actually available.”
Tharp tries to bring real life situations into the classroom. Oftentimes they are from her own experiences or that of her friends.
“We recently sold and purchased a home,” she said. “I learned little things that can help a buyer or seller, so I shared those with the students.”
Outside the classroom, Tharp is involved and has encouraged her students’ involvement in the FCS Career Tech Student Organization, Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA).
Several students recently presented projects in a regional FCCLA competition with one group advancing to the state conference to present and potentially advance to the national conference to compete.
Those projects and many others were first delivered within the district. One group of students took a “M is for Money” program to the Primary School. Students in the child development classes held a community baby shower to collect items to be donated to support local agencies like the Open Arms Pregnancy Center in Cambridge, for their clients.
Students also wore pajamas to school to raise awareness of drowsy driving. The program also partners with the King Arthur Baking Company which provides free ingredients as long as the ingredients are used to bake products that are donated.
“It is fun to see our students in action outside of the walls here,” Tharp said. “We have a service project tied to every class.”
Upcoming events include an international food day at the school and potentially hosting a barbeque cook off competition.
For Tharp, it all started when she was a student at nearby Tri-Valley High School.
“At Tri-Valley, I was inspired to be an FCS teacher,” Tharp confessed. “I took all the classes there and was inspired by my teacher, Mrs. Judy Martin.”
Tharp and her family are now a big part of the Cambridge community.
“My husband (Jake, an alumnus of Cambridge High School) teaches and coaches in Cambridge and our kids go to school in Cambridge,” Tharp said. “I wanted to be involved in the community we live in. That was a big decision point for me when I decided to apply at Cambridge. I wanted to work where we live and give back to the community.”
When she is not working, Tharp is busy with her family -- Jase a 2nd grader, Jordan a kindergartener, and two-year old Jemma. She works with her kids on projects and is involved with the Primary PTAG. In addition, the Tharps recently hatched and are raising chicks.
One may guess that Tharp’s house is just as cluttered – and busy – as her classroom.