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Why we keep teaching life skills | Column
Family and consumer sciences classes are needed more than ever
Jessica Rosado of Holiday took this photo of her sewing station. Beneath the face mask she was making is a New York Post with a cover story about the horrors faced by health workers working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Jessica Rosado of Holiday took this photo of her sewing station. Beneath the face mask she was making is a New York Post with a cover story about the horrors faced by health workers working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. [ Jessica Rosado ]
Published May 28, 2020

Stay-at-home orders have forced us to be more self-reliant than we’ve been in generations.

If we need to get something done, we have to figure out how to do it ourselves. We have to figure out how to sanitize the house. Cook a decent, and hopefully nutritious, meal. Sew a face mask. Strategize our grocery shopping. Cope with a loss of income, or think more seriously about saving for the future.

Even as restrictions relax, it’s unclear if or when things will return to normal, so we’ll likely need to keep figuring these things out for some time.

Michael Gutter is the associate dean for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and state program leader for 4-H youth development, families & communities.
Michael Gutter is the associate dean for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and state program leader for 4-H youth development, families & communities. [ UF/IFAS PHOTOGRAPHER | UF/IFAS File Photo ]

But we don’t have to do it on our own. Educators across the country teach these valuable life skills.

For adults, the University of Florida has family and consumer sciences agents, formerly known as home economists. For young people, we have 4-H youth development agents.

Today, when many people imagine home economics or 4-H, they probably see an image from the past—a 4-H club for kids on farms, or a home economics class from the 1950s. And while many youth from rural communities still participate in 4-H, and some high schools still offer family consumer and sciences classes, 4-H and family consumer sciences have evolved to be much more and reach a broader audience.

However, perceptions of 4-H and family and consumer sciences don’t match what these programs are today. I think the coronavirus crisis is changing those perceptions. The life skills that make individuals and families self-sufficient and resilient are what we teach — and we do it as a public service free to all. And now we are offering these programs and resources online so that Floridians all over the state can benefit.

Family and consumer sciences agents can help you with everything from paying down debt to preventing cross contamination in the kitchen. 4-H agents help students pursue projects in science, healthy living, community service and the arts, which includes sewing. Right now, 4-H members in Florida and across the country are busy sewing masks for people in their communities. They’ll take these foundational life skills into adulthood.

This moment in our history reaffirms the need for 4-H and family and consumer sciences, as well as other science outreach programs in agriculture and natural resources that help ensure stable families, a sustainable food supply and environmental conservation. We provide these educational services to the public through what we call Cooperative Extension, a partnership of land-grant universities like UF and federal, state and county governments.

I believe this crisis will help more people recognize the value in what we do and how it directly benefits them. I think this crisis shows that disciplines like family and consumer sciences and youth development aren’t relics of the past and never have been. In fact, they may have a greater presence and importance in our post-COVID-19 future.

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Michael Gutter is the associate dean for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and state program leader for 4-H youth development, families & communities.

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