Zephyr High School class teaches leadership, life skills

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
Zephyr High School juniors Chezney Walters (left) and Emily Miller are pictured with family and consumer sciences teacher Jenna Marwitz in Marwitz's kitchen-classroom at the high school.
Freshmen (from left) McKenna Cash, Avery Dozier and Bethany Blair describe how they used small "monsters" to teach hygiene skills to Zephyr first-grade students.
Zephyr High School senior prepares to pull away panels on his display board to illustrate his project with Oak Ridge Manor.
Zephyr High School senior Hailey Lehman (left) and freshman Cali McRee explain their project involving preserving family traditions including sewing, crocheting and knitting.
Zephyr High School family and consumer sciences students (from left) junior Emily Miller, sophomore Lillie Thomas and senior Drew Reynolds stand next to their project on mental health.
Zephyr High School juniors Grace Williams (left) and Chezney Walters are pictured with their project on disabilities.

ZEPHYR — In Jenna Marwitz’s family and consumer sciences classroom at Zephyr High School, her students were busily happy — or happily busy — as they worked in Marwitz’s kitchen-classroom on a recent morning.

The young chefs baked palate-pleasing cakes and cookies, and whipped up custom-made coffee drinks and other beverages.

“We’ve never made these before. These are espresso cookies,” Marwitz — who is married to Zephyr school superintendent Stanton Marwitz — explained as she stood near a pan of freshly baked cookies.

“We’re trying them for the first time today.”

Marwitz noted that family and consumer sciences — usually referred to as FCS — is the umbrella of what she teaches. FCS competes in an organization known as Family Career and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA. The family and consumer sciences class is in its second year at Zephyr High School, returning following an absence of several years.

Marwitz taught in the eighth grade in Zephyr in the 2008 and ’09 school years, then stayed home until returning to the classroom in 2019 as the family and consumer sciences teacher.

“My classes range from nutrition, interpersonal relationships. I teach child development, culinary … for all my classes I would say the goal is to teach leadership and life skills, things they can use in the future,” Marwitz said.

Classroom topics include “anything to do with families and consumers. Anything to do with family, from conception to death and everything in between, and how to function in life in the middle of that,” she continued.

While the culinary aspects of family and consumer science aspects are fun — and tasty — the FCS students are involved in weighty projects that deal with topics including mental health, children’s issues, aging and disabilities.

Seven family and consumer sciences teams from Zephyr have advanced to state FCCLA competition with their projects, which will be April 10 in Dallas. Judges will look at the students’ project boards which reflect research, facts and solutions.

The top two teams from the state competition will advance to nationals in Tennessee.

The projects have given students opportunities to help others in ways such as raising money to go toward an inclusion playground the Arc of Brown County plans to install at Allcorn Park in Brownwood and setting up bookshelves in the school library on topics including mental health.

One of the projects, “keeping family traditions alive,” involves skills including sewing and crocheting.

Students who’ve learned to crochet have said “this is calming, way more calming than my phone,” senior Elissa Gowin said.

Junior Cheyenne Klaus is part of a project on mental health. The students involved with that project drew inspiration from a movie about Temple Grandin, an autistic speaker and author.

Klaus said the students have sold T-shirts with a quote from Grandin. They’ll donate the funds from the T-shirt sales to the Arc of Brown County, which is raising money to build an inclusive playground at Allcorn Park in Brownwood.

Another project involves freshmen McKenna Cash, Avery Dozier and Bethany Blair, who have been teaching hygiene skills to first-graders using small “monsters” as props. The girls made the monsters based on the first-graders’ drawings.

The first-graders are learning about brushing teeth from brushing the teeth of their monsters.

Blair said the project is personal to her because her little brother is in the class. “I got to make his monster. It was really cool to see him enjoying that,” Blair said.

“I think we also learned how to interact with kids better. I really hope that we taught them leadership skills because I felt like we were kind of leaders, teaching them hygiene.”

Juniors Chezney Walters' and Grace Williams’ project involves talking to younger students about disabilities, and they, too, were inspired by the Temple Grandin movie.

Senior Kye McClain’s project dealing with aging issues was inspired by his pre-COVID visits to nursing homes, where he other students would play games including dominoes and Bingo with the seniors. With COVID preventing actual visits, students are sending letters to the seniors.

Senior Hailey Lehman was also part of a project related to mental health.

“I did some research and actually a lot of people during ’rona had a lot of problems with anxiety and depression,” Lehman said. 

She and team member Cali McRee set up a shelf in the library for books on the topic.

Junior Emily Miller, senior Drew Reynolds and sophomore Lillie Thomas, also part of a mental health project, said they want people to know it's OK to go to therapy.

Thomas said trying to help others “really has brought out the Good Samaritan in us.”

Mental health issues can affect a small community such as Zephyr, the students said.

“People stereotype mental health,” Thomas said. “It’s a real thing and it really does affect a lot of people. If you do need help, ask out. It’s important to ask out for help and get people to help you, because if you don’t have help, it can get worse and things will happen that we don’t want to happen, and we could lose people we really love.” 

Marwitz said of her students, “there is lots going on. These kids have to have leadership skills. They’re putting in nighttime and weekends. I am really proud of their leadership skills and their initiative to put in extra time.”