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Poland teacher serves up tasty science lessons

September 20, 2013
By Joanna Larson , Town Crier correspondent

A Poland Middle School teacher has returned to her classroom this fall with new information about food safety and science, which she will be exploring with her students as classes kick off this fall.

Korisa McCoy, a family and consumer science teacher at the middle school, was one of 40 teachers nationwide chosen to participate in a food science training program developed and implemented by the Food and Drug Administration, the National Science Teachers Association, and Graduate School USA.

As part of the one-week program, McCoy was joined this summer by educators from around the nation for the National Workshop on Food Science in Washington, D.C.

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Photo by Joanna Larson, Town Crier correspondent
Choice of 2 photos P-teacher 1 or 2
Poland Middle School teacher Korisa McCoy is one of 40 teachers across the nation who was selected to participate in a national food science training program.

The program, which was designed to educate teachers and students about critical food safety issues, builds upon traditional food safety concepts by showing teachers how to explore the science behind food safety with their students. Teachers learned first hand about the "why" or the "science" behind food-borne illnesses.

"Food affects us all," McCoy said, citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimate that one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning each year.

As part of training, teachers learned about the different types of food-borne illness at Graduate School USA, they performed science labs at the microbiology lab at the University of Maryland, and they learned about seafood safety at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology. They also toured the farm, gardens and research center at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Additionally, teachers visited the FDA where they were able to talk with FDA scientist and researchers and learn about food allergies, food labeling, cosmetics, and color safety, McCoy said.

"My favorite day was going to the FDA," said McCoy.

At the end of training, teachers were not only equipped with knowledge of food safety and science, but they were also shown how to do experiments in their classrooms to transfer that knowledge to their students.

"In the instance if you're preparing hamburgers instead of just telling the students to be safe - 'It should be cooked to 160 degrees,' we do labs where you cook it at 120, you swab it, you do 140, you do 160," McCoy said. "So instead of just saying, it should be cooked to this temperature, the students get to see the science behind this - this is why."

Other topics and lab activities include proper defrosting methods and proper hand washing. McCoy said that one lab will include swabbing food that is not defrosted properly, so students can see the germs that grow with various unsafe methods.

"They'll be able to see and remember - What happens if I don't defrost something properly? If I don't cook it to the right temperature?" McCoy said. "With them remembering, I hope that they are able to apply that to their life, and as they're older and on their own and responsible for meals, they'll remember what happened if they didn't cook something properly."

Other subjects included little-known facts like how the FDA does a traceback investigation to determine the origin of food-borne illness when there is an outbreak.

All of these new activities and information will be taught in the new "Healthy Foods" class that the middle school has just started offering this semester.

Coincidentally, the school was already planning on offering the new Healthy Foods course this school year when McCoy was invited to the workshop. The timing, Principal Mark Covell said, worked out perfectly.

"It just fit right into our current curriculum. It's enhancing or enriching our current curriculum, the things that she's learned," Covell said.

Healthy Foods falls under the umbrella of Family and Consumer Science, a subject many grew up knowing as home economics. In 1994, home ec was renamed by many organizations to family and consumer science to reflect the change in times as well as the growing complexity of the subject area.

Covell said that he is happy to see McCoy's dedication and passion for family and consumer science and believes in the value of teaching students these kinds of life skills.

"Sometimes we've forgotten those kinds of skills and we're so focused on our four cores that we sometimes forget how enriching these other activities can be," Covell said.

For McCoy, the things she teaches in family and consumer science are true passions she credits to learning she did both as a child and as an adult.

After growing up with sewing and cooking in 4-H, and spending a lot of time with her grandma in the garden and cooking, McCoy said that she took a family and consumer science class in high school, and a teacher suggested she study it as a career.

This year, around 78 students who are enrolled in the middle school's Healthy Foods class, will learn about food safety with McCoy.

"We're preparing students for life, and this is a big part. No matter what career they are going to choose, they are going to be responsible for preparing foods, or eating safe foods," McCoy said. "Just preparing them for life, I feel is extremely important."

As for McCoy's learning this year, the program did not end at the summer workshop. In December, McCoy will also attend another conference where she will learn more about how to put training together for other teachers.

McCoy said that the program was all-expense paid for the teachers who were chosen to attend, so there is no cost to the district for her participation. Teachers will be supplied with photographs from the D.C. training to show students more about what was learned. McCoy said the program is also giving each teacher $500 to buy supplies for the classroom.

Louise Dickerson, FDA project manager for the program, said that through the program, the FDA aims to support its goal of reducing the incidence of food-borne illness in the country.

Since the program's origin in 1999, Isabelle Howes of Graduate School USA said that 580 teachers have completed the weeklong program, reaching approximately 10,800 teachers and more than 5 million students across the country.



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