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Teaching value of family, consumer science

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

• Perseverance and enthusiasm are two of Sara Garthwait’s goals

​This article was first published in ​Today Magazine, our monthly publication

By Bruce Deckert — Today Magazine Editor-in-Chief

For many students, education is a calculation connected to a practicality sieve — if a student deems the information or principle being taught as pointless and irrelevant or (perhaps worse yet) inaccurate and detrimental, the result is predictable: The student will tune out the teacher, ignore the principle, and seek what is believed to be better and more reliable information.

Actually, the practicality-sieve approach needs to be the approach of all students, hands-down and without question — what’s the point of learning anything if what one learns has no relevance to everyday life?

For Sara Garthwait, a teacher and department coordinator in the Simsbury school system, this is less of an issue — at least, as long as students have the sense to realize the value of the content she teaches, practicality is the proverbial low-hanging fruit. A student need not be Einstein or a rocket scientist to see the merit of her subject matter, known today as the Family and Consumer Sciences.

If you’re unclear about this, it will become evident as you continue reading this story — indeed, if you’re skeptical, hang in there.

The reality is this: All school subjects and disciplines have practicality and relevance to everyday life — yes, literally every single one. One of the challenges for educators is to help students see the value of the various subjects and disciplines encountered throughout one’s school day and school years — and yes, besides being a challenge, this is also perhaps the greatest privilege of being an educator.

Here’s a further perhaps — perhaps the field of Family and Consumer Science is the ideal discipline in terms of convincing students of the importance and relevance of the material being taught.

Sara Garthwait

Yet “convincing” is too strong a word: How much convincing needs to occur for a student to discern the significance of Family and Consumer Sciences?

Yet some readers might be unsure what this field entails. If you find yourself in the dark about the meaning of this discipline, let’s shed some light — and for an earlier generation of students, two words will likely suffice: home economics.

“The field of Family and Consumer Sciences, founded as home economics, is the comprehensive body of skills, research and knowledge that helps people make informed decisions about their well-being, relationships and resources to achieve optimal quality of life,” says the website of the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences.

The field encompasses a wide diversity of the human experience, per the website — from human development to food science and nutrition and wellness … from personal and family finance to consumer issues … from housing and interior design to textiles and apparel.

Speaking of practicality vis-à-vis a career track, Family and Consumer Science professionals “practice in multiple settings and address the issues most important to our quality of life,” per the website.

Related occupations include administrators and managers in the public and private sector, human service professionals, consultants and researchers, and educators — from early childhood to elementary to secondary to college.

Garthwait began working at Simsbury’s middle school — Henry James Memorial School for grades 7-8 — in August 2004 as a teacher and department coordinator, but the latter supervisory role is for the Family and Consumer Sciences department at both Henry James and Simsbury High School.

Before taking the education plunge, she served as a recruiter, a quality assurance specialist and a dietetic intern.

42 years young, Garthwait is a native of Connecticut — she was raised in Enfield and resides there today. She holds a bachelor of science degree in general dietetics from the University of New Haven (2001 graduate) and a master’s in library science from Southern Connecticut State University (2010). She has also earned a second master’s degree — an M.Ed. in educational technology from the American College of Education (2021).

In an exclusive interview with Today Magazine, Garthwait addresses some key education topics:

Why did you decide to become an educator — in other words, what motivated you to go into education?

I’ve always loved learning and educating others, and I enjoy working with kids. My passion for food and nutrition, and a love for all things sewing and crafting, fits well with the area of Family and Consumer Science education.

Your favorite teachers from your school days?

I am not a history fan at all, but my high school Russian history teacher was so passionate and engaging that I remember that class fondly. I adore music and had a band teacher in middle school who was moved to tears by our work. He too was so passionate about what he did and always challenged us to be better. These memories have stuck with me over the years.

Most essential attributes for an educator?

Passion, enthusiasm, being a good listener and connecting with kids.

Most fulfilling aspect of your work in education?

The excitement students have when they have persevered and created something they are proud of.

Your take on the smartphone revolution and its impact on education:

The ease of communication, connection and information at your fingertips has been great, but I think it often gets misused and it is a challenge to find a balance in the classroom.

The greatest obstacle students face today, and how we can help them overcome it:

Social media — teach them digital citizenship skills and help them understand how to use technology for good.

Anecdote offering a snapshot of your work in education:

I have spent my entire career in Simsbury in Family and Consumer Science education, and every day is a new adventure with students in foods, sewing, gardening and more! Follow us on Instagram @hjmsgardens and @fcs.forlife

What do you appreciate most about the Farmington Valley?

Beautiful scenery, great outdoor adventures, and as a self-proclaimed foodie, a variety of high-quality food options.

What constructive change would you like to see in the Valley?

While I love the small-town feel, it would be helpful to have at least one or two more “big box” shopping options for those who can’t travel.

Favorite spots in the Valley — restaurants, recreation, et al:

Millwright’s Restaurant & Tavern, LaSalle Market & Deli, Tiger Belly Noodle Bar, McLean Game Refuge, Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center and Talcott Mountain State Park. More on the outskirts of the Farmington Valley, I enjoy Penwood State Park and Peak Mountain.

Favorite books — up to three:

I am an avid reader, so it’s tough, but I will narrow it down to a few of my top-rated: the Silo series by Hugh Howey, “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult and “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova.

Favorite TV shows — up to three:

Not a big TV watcher, but I love documentaries, especially crime ones, game shows and many of the Law & Order shows.

Family — Happily married to my husband Mike since 2005. We have two kids: Madelyn (Maddy), who is 14, and Samuel (Sam) who is 10. We also have a rescue dog, a Persian cat and a tortoise!

Further comment — as you wish:

Teaching is one of the most challenging professions, especially in today’s world, but I love the kids and have trouble imagining myself anywhere else. +

This article first appeared in the June 2022 edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication


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