CROSBY — Nancy Sandeen describes her field as a mix of the “traditional” home economics classes of old and more updated curriculums aimed at preparing students for their future careers, whatever that may be.

New to the Crosby-Ironton School District this year, Sandeen hopes to expand the school’s family and consumer sciences — or FACS — program and help others better understand what the field covers.

“Family and consumer sciences is really looking at the different career opportunities that fall within our curriculum, whether it’s human services, hospitality, child development education, housing and interior design,” Sandeen said during an interview Wednesday, Jan. 15. “There’s so many opportunities for careers that make a livable wage, and so to try to get people to understand — that I think is kind of my little personal mission.”

The field of study isn’t new, per se, but Sandeen feels not everyone realizes that, often thinking FACS is just a new version of home ec, which traditionally taught skills like cooking and sewing viewed as lessons in homemaking. FACS does, indeed, play off those necessary life skills but takes them a step further and shows students how they might be able to build a career around those lessons.

In the C-I School District, an exploratory FACS class is mandatory for all seventh graders. Each day of the week focuses on a different topic. Money Mondays revolve around financial literacy. Tuesdays are for designing — interiors, apparel, textiles, construction. Wednesdays delve into human development and relationships.

“I call it Wellness Wednesday because if you can’t get along with other people or yourself, it’s going to make it hard to get through any of the other days,” Sandeen said.

On Thursdays students think about career planning with the help of aptitude tests and interest surveys. They determine which experiences they’ve had in the past that might help them in the job search or think about what other experiences they’d like to have in the future.

Food Fridays focus on nutrition and wellness, with students trying out recipes in the kitchen.

Christian Williams (left) and Dane Tillbury put ice cream and other toppings on their chocolate lava skillet cookie Thursday, Jan. 16, during their family and consumer sciences class at Crosby-Ironton High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Christian Williams (left) and Dane Tillbury put ice cream and other toppings on their chocolate lava skillet cookie Thursday, Jan. 16, during their family and consumer sciences class at Crosby-Ironton High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“I think they need to be exposed to opportunities,” Sandeen said of her students. “For me, it’s really difficult to make a decision without having all of the information. And I just feel like if you provide the opportunity for those students to be exposed to those environments or that curriculum or those experiences, they can make a better decision for themselves, a more informed decision about what they like or what they don’t like.”

If something in that exploratory FACS class sticks with students, they can come back for more in high school. This year’s classes include housing and interior design, international foods and ProStart, a culinary class that will start up next semester.

Next year Sandeen will take on 11 classes, and 13 the following school year, growing the FACS program bigger and bigger. Now in her 17th year of teaching, Sandeen hopes to use her experiences in other districts to bring new, fresh ideas to Crosby-Ironton.

After starting out her working life in nursing and then social work, Sandeen started teaching in 2004 as a long-term FACS substitute in the Eden Valley-Watkins district.

She went to Iowa State University for a degree in family and consumer sciences education and studies, intending to use the skills learned there in her social work career before she discovered teaching was an option.

The bulk of her teaching career — 15 years — was spent in various roles at the Anoka-Hennepin School District, starting out working in the drug treatment and teen pregnancy program. All her students were either pregnant or parenting, with some having additional needs because of drug treatment. Sandeen worked with them both at home and in school, helping students to get their education while also learning to parent their children.

“A lot of students, they just came from such sad families, sad home lives,” she said. “... I just showed them kindness and love, and that got them to believe in themselves that they were worth something.”

As the number of students in that program dwindled, Sandeen decided to focus on teaching students about career paths, then working at both Coon Rapids and Anoka high schools. She also spent some time teaching in St. Cloud before moving north with her husband Steve.

With hunting land between Remer and Walker, Sandeen and her husband spent many weekends up in the lakes area for respite, always dreading the time they had to go back home.

When the position opened up in Crosby-Ironton, it was much too good to pass up.

“I came and interviewed, and I fell in love from the first minute I walked in the door,” she said, noting she noticed right away the students’ politeness and their respect for staff.

“Everybody seemed happy,” she said. “And I’m like, ‘I want to work where people are happy.’”

Luckily, Sandeen’s husband found a job teaching technology education in Pine River-Backus, prompting the couple to move north for good.

All that time as an FACS teacher in other districts exposed Sandeen to new ideas she wants to bring to Crosby-Ironton, like an introduction to education class for students who are interested in early childhood or elementary education. That introductory class would ideally transfer as college credits to Central Lakes College, St. Cloud State University and perhaps Bemidji State University.

“The superintendent and my administration here is so super supportive and so super strong,” she said. “They have really encouraged me to expand the family and consumer sciences as I see needed.”

Not only is she looking to expand the program itself, but also its perception. With few colleges in the region offering family and consumer sciences as a major, Sandeen fears not many people realize it as a career path in itself, meaning teachers can be difficult to find and knowledge of the program can be hard to spread.

“I think, for a while, our society has kind of downplayed the idea of a woman wanting to be a mom or downplayed the idea of a young man wanting to go to … vocational college or even enlist in the military because there’s somehow this philosophy or this idea, ‘Well they must not be very smart.’ And that’s so far from the truth,” Sandeen said, noting FACS classes give students opportunities to learn, grow and enrich their lives.

“They’re life skills,” she said. “How much better can that get?”

For more photos, go to https://bit.ly/2RwDnUR.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.