- Rosemary Jones saw the skills her students needed in family and consumer sciences change considerably during a 26-year teaching career.
- Jones impacted her students both through her classes and through community service projects they worked on.
By Mike Marsee
Rosemary Jones wanted to teach cooking and sewing, but she wound up teaching life instead.
Jones began a 26-year career in education as a home economics teacher and finished it as a family and consumer sciences teacher before retiring last summer from Bell County High School.
She said she taught the skills students shouldn’t enter their adult lives without, even though those skills changed over the years.
“It’s the most important class a student will take in high school. I cannot stress that enough,” Jones said. “It teaches you life. That’s how I designed it.”
Jones’ impact on her students’ lives and the lives of others in their community was recognized by the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), which honored her with the ACTE Region II Carl Perkins Community Service Award. The award recognizes people who have used CTE to make a significant impact on their community and demonstrated leadership in programs and activities that promote student involvement in community service.
“Rosemary is very deserving of being recognized on the national level for her community service efforts,” said Kayla Godbey, the family and consumer sciences education consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education. “Not only did Rosemary uphold a quality program with intentional instruction, superior work-based learning opportunities, she taught her students the value of serving others and giving back.”
Jones said community service projects were one avenue she used to recruit students to her classes, telling them the work would add to their scholarship applications, and she said she always found students willing to work.
“The best way to get your students involved is to just ask them,” she said “They want to help, they want to do things bigger than themselves.”
Jones spent the last 12 years prior to her retirement as a family and consumer sciences teacher and FCCLA chapter adviser at Bell County High in the second stage of a two-part teaching career. She taught in Tennessee for 11 years, then spent three years at Middlesboro High School (Middlesboro Independent) before leaving to raise her daughter. She returned to teaching 13 years later – the same year her daughter entered high school – when she learned of an opening at Bell County.
She said she came to realize that her students needed different skills than students of a generation earlier.
“Just how I’ve had to teach in the last 12 years changed so much, and the students have changed, too. So many of them don’t have a home life like I grew up with,” she said.
Jones’ classes evolved from the basics that made up the home economics curriculum of old to more specific courses such as food and nutrition, parenting and relationships and money skills, which became one of the favorite electives of both her and her students.
“Kids need to know how to balance a checkbook and how to write a resume, and a lot of them are not getting that now,” she said.
Jones developed a program in which students were assigned jobs – some were bosses, some were employees – and went through 5-minute interviews that helped determine “salaries” from which living expenses would be deducted to give students an idea of what real life is like.
“We’d talk about job skills and networking, the soft skills as well as the technical skills. They had to make a budget. It made it real,” she said. “I loved doing that, especially the interviews. You wouldn’t believe how well-dressed they came, the signs they’d make for their ‘office.’”
Godbey said teachers such as Jones are invaluable.
“They walk the walk and talk the talk inside and outside the classroom,” she said. “They understand the importance of purposeful teaching and then allowing students to apply learned concepts through entrepreneurial endeavors for student-run businesses and to simply serve others because it’s the right thing to do. The amount of time, money and resources Rosemary and her students have given over the course of her teaching career is unbelievable.”
Brianna Guy took every class Jones taught and spent time with her during her senior year as a student assistant. Now a senior at Western Kentucky University, Guy hopes not only to follow in Jones’ footsteps as a family and consumer sciences teacher, but also to replace her at Bell County High.
The program was suspended this year, but Jones hopes the school will be able to restart it when she’s ready to begin her teaching career.
“I hope I can do that,” Guy said. “I really hope to go back home and teach there. A lot of kids there don’t have a parent that teaches them the life skills that they need.”
Jones said she hopes Guy can get the job, and she hopes the school will realize the value of the family and consumer sciences program after a couple of years without it.
Guy said she appreciated the fact that Jones took an interest in her and other students in her classes and in the school’s FCCLA chapter, where they competed in regional and national competitions.
“I really didn’t have a place where I fit in, and she gave us the opportunity to build on our own character,” Guy said. “I always had to do my best work, and she knew when I wasn’t doing my best work. She’d call me out on it. And FCCLA was just icing on the cake.”
Guy also said she “fell in love” with the curriculum, which is one reason she wants to teach it.
“I could learn about math and reading all day long, but that’s not going to help me file my taxes, help me raise my kids, help me have safe relationship. That’s life,” she said.
Guy’s roommate at WKU, fellow Bell County alumnus Josie Sproles, is also studying to become a family and consumer sciences teacher in large part because of Jones’ influence.
“She definitely has had the biggest influence in my life,” Sproles said. “I had no interest in family and consumer sciences whatsoever. I had transferred to Bell County, one of her classes had open space and they put me in it, and it just became a home. She made me want to come to school.”
Sproles said she came to realize as she made her way through the curriculum the value of both the content and the teacher.
“She changed a lot of lives in that one classroom,” she said of Jones. “She made a lot of kids realize what they’re worth, and I want to do the same thing.”
Jones said even though what is taught in family and consumer sciences classes changed so much during her teaching career, she sees the curriculum evolving even more as Guy and other young teachers take the baton.
“I see it changing in several ways,” she said. “The food and nutrition class has already evolved because you’re fighting fast food. You have to have foods they’re going to cook in class that are relevant to them, not that pot roast dinner, because women work now. Clothing has evolved, too. It’s not so much apparel, but it’s more crafts and tote bags and cosmetic bags.
“Interior design has always been a real expensive class to teach, but now you can do everything online, so I see more schools being able to offer that.
“And with the new financial literacy requirement for graduation, I think money skills will be expanded where it won’t have to be just FCS or business teachers teaching that class.”
Jones was recognized Nov. 28 at ACTE’s national conference in San Antonio as a regional winner and one of five finalists for the national Carl Perkins Community Service Award. She didn’t win the national award, but she said she felt like a winner as news of her regional award spread.
“When I won this award and it got put on Facebook, I got so many comments from former students that said, ‘I use the things you’ve taught me,’ and that makes you feel really good,” she said.