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Building skills for life, starting with food

Old-school home economics gets a makeover

Kenowa Hills — In Lisa White’s classroom, you can find multiple sinks and power outlets, but she does not actually teach chemistry or biology.

Five toaster ovens occupy space on the countertops used by her middle school students in the new life skills course.

White originally proposed the idea for a life skills class to Principal Jim Smith, who supported the idea.

“Back in the day, I took a life skills class but they’ve gone by the wayside since,” Smith said. 

The home economics classes of years past are getting a modern refresh from White and her plans to teach cooking, baking and money management. 

One particular class learned how to make egg muffins, inspired by student-written recipes. 

During the previous class session, each small group of students created a recipe for their egg muffins, including meat, veggies and cheese. Their brainstorm for toppings became White’s shopping list.

“I bought all of the ingredients they listed in their recipes and put them in containers for today’s class,” White said. “We have ham, sausages, three kinds of cheese, tomatoes, onions, peppers and jalapenos for those few brave souls.” 

Sixth-grader Kaidyn Tomkins carefully followed his group’s recipe while gathering ingredients from the front table. He filled his plate with a spoonful of bacon, tomatoes, cheese and balanced the egg in a stack of muffin liners. 

The rest of his group members cracked the eggs and whisked them together with their toppings while their toaster oven preheated. 

At the next table over, another group was topping their egg mixtures with individual toppings in the muffin tin.

Sixth-grader Adelyn Johnston was in charge of the salt and pepper and classmate eighth-grader Lyllie Mclain cautioned her not to over-season the eggs.  

“I’ve never had egg muffins, but I like eggs so this should be good,” Lyllie said. 

Life skills teacher Lisa White demonstrates how to pour eggs into muffin tins during their breakfast lesson
Life skills teacher Lisa White demonstrates how to pour eggs into muffin tins during their breakfast lesson

Build it and They Will Cook 

While the egg muffins baked, students were tasked to research protein, what it is and its different forms, including for vegetarians and vegans.

The next time the class meets, White said the students will make a food budget based on the prices of ingredients they used for the egg muffins. 

‘I want to know what to expect when I get older and be more prepared for life.’

— eighth-grader Adrianna Smith

Learning how food fuels the human body and how to shop and prepare food are some of White’s main learning goals. 

One of the class’ first assignments was to conduct a survey for parents to see what they wanted their students to learn. Students were also surveyed for their input. The results found cooking and budgeting were the two most desired topics. 

“Student and parent voices asking for this class is what made it happen,” White said. “The board approved the idea for the class last spring and I took a look at these five sinks and thought about how we could make it all work.” 

Additional goals of the life skills curriculum are to encourage students to try new foods and how to research and modify recipes.

“My students came to me with recipes they wanted to try making, as long as they could be made in 35 minutes or less during our class time,” White said.  

White’s class is open to all sixth- through eighth-graders who want to sharpen their life skills.

“I’ve always wanted to get better at cooking,” Lyllie said. “When I saw this class, I thought it was a smart decision to learn how to make food and make a budget.” 

Eighth-grader Adrianna Smith also enjoyed cooking and baking before signing up for the class.

“I want to know what to expect when I get older and be more prepared for life,” she said.

Students Want More

On food preparation days, the desks get arranged into tables so each group can sit and eat like a family. 

White also instructs students on table etiquette like not eating until everyone is served or not talking with your mouth full.  

“Before they can take the first bite, each group has to talk about something they did well together to make the dish,” she said. 

Towards the end of class, the students were responsible for cleaning their tables, workstations and dishes, learning that many hands make light work.

White said she had a full class for the first and second trimesters so far this year. 

She added: “The students loved the class during the first trimester and now, I have kids already asking for life skills 2 class.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia, Kenowa Hills, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids and is a roving reporter for GRCC, Wyoming, Kentwood and Byron Center. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN.  Read Alexis' full bio

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