NORWICH, Conn. (AP) - In the 1970s, Norwich Free Academy had 13 home economics teachers who taught classes in everything from
interior design and clothing construction to bachelor living, a
boys-only class that taught basic skills such as how to sew on
buttons and iron shirts.
Today, NFA has four teachers in family and consumer sciences,
now considered the proper term for a subject that has expanded
beyond cooking and sewing to include courses such as child
development and restaurant management.
Deborah Rand, the head of NFA's vocational arts and sciences
program, will be eligible for retirement in two years and is
concerned about who will succeed her.
In 2000, a study in the Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences
Education predicted that 77 percent of the teachers in the subject
would retire by 2012.
The state Department of Education does not consider family and
consumer sciences a shortage area. But professionals in the field
are noticing a shrinking supply of teachers, a trend they attribute
to increased opportunities for students with a passion for the
subject and a lack of certification options for those students who
want to teach.
Several professionals also think the lack of university-level
family and consumer sciences courses is a problem.
St. Joseph's College in West Hartford is the only traditional
family and consumer sciences education program in the state,
offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. The school graduated
two undergraduates and two graduates last year, said Jill Mack,
certification officer for the education department at St. Joseph's.
"I get calls every year from superintendents saying, 'Who have
you got for family and consumer sciences?"' Mack said. "Our
candidates are so sought after that they can pick the position
that's best for them."
But the stringent requirements of the graduate program make
qualifying difficult for mid-career professionals, Mack said.
Admission to the graduate program requires 30 undergraduate
credits, including science, foods, child development and financial
Other schools slowly have eliminated their family and consumer
sciences education programs. The University of Connecticut dropped
its family and consumer sciences major in 1988 and cut its
certification program around 2002.
But administrators hope to restart a certification program for
students who major in fields such as nutrition and family
development to obtain certification in family and consumer sciences
education, said Katherine Brophy, an associate professor of
development and family studies at UConn.
NFA's department has had four teachers since the mid-1990s, when
the sewing program was cut because its teachers retired. NFA now
offers courses in culinary arts and child development, which Rand
said always are full.
Rand said more career opportunities exist for students today
than when she entered the field 34 years ago. Students who share
Rand's passion for cooking might be drawn to another field, she
"They want to be restaurateurs; they want to be entrepreneurs;
they want to make a lot of money," Rand said. "You're not going
to do that as a teacher."
For Erika Malito, a senior at Killingly High School, courses in
Introduction to Early Childhood Education confirmed she did not
want to pursue a career in education.
Instead, Malito is doing an independent study in social work
this year, shadowing a clinical social worker and mentoring girls
with self-esteem issues.
Malito also said the material she studied in child development
classes, such as the theories of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, is
similar to subjects in classes such as psychology.
"A lot of people think of the class as babies, but it's not,"
Malito said. "Everything I've learned has helped me in all my
Brophy, the associate professor at UConn, said family and
consumer sciences often is overshadowed by the core subjects, such
as reading and math. But she attributes poor performances in No
Child Left Behind test scores partially to the decline of practical
subjects such as family and consumer sciences.
"So much of the mathematics and a lot of areas come to life in
family and consumer sciences," Brophy said. "Students can really
see where they're applied."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)