JEFFERSON — A Jefferson High School teacher is among a handful of educators nominated by the Wisconsin Association of Family and Consumer Sciences for its “Teacher of the Year” award.
Kimberly Hart-Shatswell has taught Family and Consumer Sciences at Jefferson High School since 2007, updating a more traditional “Home Ec” program to give it a more professional focus and expanding offerings in various specialty areas.
Among the changes she has overseen has been the establishment of dual-credit courses through which students also can earn technical college credits, and the founding of a local chapter of the Health Occupations Students of America, with various students earning international awards in HOSA competitions.
The Wisconsin WAFCS Teacher of the Year program ties in with a national recognition program sponsored by the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.
At both the state and national levels, the Teacher of the Year award seeks to recognize exemplary teachers who utilize cutting-edge methods and techniques, and who organize activities that stimulate student interest while heightening the visibility of family and consumer sciences in secondary education.
The nomination takes into account teachers’ leadership roles in their school and profession, and involvement in the community at large.
Hart-Shatswell (referred to in short as Ms. Hart) has been involved with WAFCS since she was in college and has served on some of the organization’s committees.
She said she was humbled to have been nominated by the organization for the Teacher of the Year award.
“When I look at the list of past award winners, I am honored to be included with such an amazing group of educators, many of whom I have known professionally and personally,” Hart remarked.
Hart, a Lake Mills resident who grew up in Neenah, came to Family and Consumer Sciences as a non-traditional student. Having earned a History major and then worked in the health care field, she was thinking of going into elementary education when she ran into a former classmate who inspired her to take a different direction.
She studied the subject at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, which had an excellent program. There, she earned a degree in Family and Consumer Sciences Education with a minor in Health and Fitness Education and a minor in Human Development and Family Studies.
Since then she has gone on to receive a Masters of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction.
Prior to coming to Jefferson, Hart worked in the Big Foot schools in Walworth County.
She has made a big impact on the Family and Consumer Sciences program at Jefferson since she came here in 2007.
Hart has introduced community service aspects to her classes, as when her students bake 3,000 cookies as a thank-you to the employees of a major sponsor of the community’s Christmas Neighbors charity.
The school did have an existing “Intro to Health Occupations” class, but she worked to get it certified for dual credit.
She introduced the Medical Terminology class, another dual credit class offered in conjunction with Madison College.
In the last couple of years, Hart has expanded the school’s food and hospitality offerings, introducing a Food Science class of sufficient rigor to earn students half a science credit.
This year, she premiered another two new classes, “Regional and Multicultural Foods” and “Housing and Interior Design” as the department reoriented itself with an eye on technical careers as well as home/consumer life skills.
Along with these changes in curriculum, which came after years of planning, study and authorization, Hart has had to make a lot of temporary adjustments in her department in the past year due to the pandemic.
The statewide school shutdown led to a swift redo of all of her lessons and how they were delivered as all classes went virtual in the spring.
Then, in the fall, when Jefferson High School opened to in-person classes with some students tuning in synchronously online, yet more adjustments had to be made to allow for traditional labs but with pandemic protections.
“A lot of my classes are very hands-on, and they had to be greatly changed,” Hart said. “We are fortunate to be able to offer labs at all under the circumstances. There are some schools that aren’t able to to that at all this year.”
However, the teacher said, numerous changes had to be made to assure student safety.
“We’re doing labs in smaller groups, so they’re taking twice as long,” Hart said. “I also have to do a lot more set-up. For example, we can’t have one common bin of flour everyone is using. Every group has to have their own container that only they use.”
The health occupations classes only are able to do some of what they traditionally would do as well. Students cannot practice taking vital signs, for example, or work on their cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills with mannekins.
“Those hands-on experiences really give you a leg up when you enter the field, but this year we’ve had to stick with the theory,” Hart said.
Trying to teach the same subject to virtual as well as in-person classmates has been a real challenge as well. Family and Consumer Sciences does not tend to be a pencil-and-paper endeavor, like math. Rather, it involves interacting with lots of different materials and tools.
Virtual-only students might have chosen that format of instruction, or they might be forced into it after being exposed to COVID-19.
Foods students trying to make the recipe at home can run into all kinds of challenges: from the ubiquitous internet connectivity issues to lack of the necessary space, equipment or ingredients.
“Some students are really doing wonderfully from home, and I enjoy seeing the pictures of everything they’ve made,” Hart said. “Some are finding it hard to do anything. If I know they need something, I try to get it out to them, but some things you just can’t deliver.”
Restructuring all of her classes during a pandemic has made her feel like a new teacher just starting out again.
“Other than the first couple years, when I was just getting my feet wet, this has obviously been the most challenging year of my educational career,” Hart said.
Her extracurricular involvements also largely have been on hold this year due to limits on gatherings.
The local HOSA chapter has not been able to hold any regular meetings this year or to take on traditional efforts such as raising money via local or national drives or certifying students as vision screeners through the Prevent Blindness organization.
However, HOSA members still have the opportunity to participate in a regional competition in their area of specialty — virtually, of course.
Meanwhile, the high school’s drama program, which Hart assists as drama club co-advisor, assistant director and costume designer, has gone all-virtual as well. That means no regular drama club meetings and clearly no staged productions of any size with audiences.
Drama students who in other years might have taken part in the school’s one-act competition plays have had the chance to prepare solo or very small-group acting pieces for video judging, but not a lot of students have taken advantage of that opportunity.
Hart said she looks forward to future years when the school again is able to offer all of its regular clubs and activities — along with more hands-on, interactive group activities in the classroom.
But pandemic or no pandemic, many of the great rewards of teaching remain unchanged, such as when teachers hear from a former student they haven’t seen in several years and hear that they have been a big influence in that young person’s life.
She cited a young woman who wants to become a nurse, who sought out training as a certified nursing assistant so she could help during the pandemic. She is proud to say other former students have taken the passions they developed in her classes and gone on into careers in health care or food service.
“As teachers, we are in a position to make a major impact on our students’ lives,” Hart said. “That’s the reason we do what we do. Little moments like that make it all worthwhile.”