Grantee Update: FACS + First5

Two observations come to mind when stepping into Jill Carmony’s Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) class at Rushville Consolidated High School (RCHS). As expected, it smells amazing (from the pretzels baked by the previous class), but also, this isn’t the Home Ec class that those over a certain age remember. In 1994 a shift occurred nationwide to expand subjects beyond traditional homemaking roles. Today’s topics include education, personal finance, interior design, textiles and fashion, culinary arts, nutrition, health and wellness, and child development.


Jeri McCorkle, director of First5 Rush County’s Early Learning Coalition, saw an opportunity for another shift in Carmony’s Advanced Child Development (ACD) course. She is using this new partnership to expand the reach of her message while addressing the dire need for more high-quality early learning in the community.


The latest grant from RCCF’s CIRCLe Fund purchased materials to broaden the focus of the class. McCorkle is connecting the human aspects. Students still learn about healthy development and childcare from a personal standpoint, but now also as a career option.


90% of the human brain develops in the first five years. Helping high schoolers understand that they can influence that as caregivers is really eye-opening to themWe have to build up our childcare pipeline. I want them to know that being a teacher doesn’t start with elementary school kids. It starts with infants,” said McCorkle.


The teens in Carmony’s class are the first to benefit from this partnership.


During the fall semester, First5 brought the City of Rushville’s Parks Department’s weekly Tot Time to the high school. Students observed the playtime and recorded their findings. They were asked to draw parallels between what they saw and the developmental milestones they’ve learned about. This spring they will form groups to plan and lead sessions themselves.


As McCorkle arrives in the FACS classroom with a large box of diapers, she asks for volunteers to help carry in more supplies. She explains the benefits of First5’s From the Bottom Up Diaper Pantry, gives them instructions, and turns them loose. The students assemble packets for distribution. Each includes 15 diapers, baby wipes, an age-appropriate book, and resources for adults – all available to anyone in need at Rush County food pantries.


Carmony makes every effort to reach her students where they are and build a rapport with them. As a result, they relax and can be themselves.


Between packing, they share thoughts about other lessons from class.


They took part in a discussion panel with McCorkle; preschool owner, Lauren Perin; and Family Nurse Practitioner, Mandy Price. They found talking to people in the actual field of early learning to be insightful.


But nothing prepared them better than the hands-on experience of caring for their RealCare Baby infants for four days.


On a Thursday, each student received a lifelike high-tech infant simulator, which they kept over the weekend. They were now parents and responsible for the care of their baby. Attending class became their job. They left their babies with Carmony, just as they would a daycare provider. The student parents had to be on time to class or lose points. “We’re building those soft skills like managing time, making good decisions and facing real consequences that were lost during Covid,” Carmony explained.


Like a human baby, the simulators react according to their needs such as being hungry, wet, or tired. Through a wristband worn by the caregiver, the simulator tracks different aspects of the care it receives and reports on it. Essentially, the baby has the capability to grade the student. Finding reliable caregivers in their absence became another responsibility. Students were required to journal about their feelings three times daily and complete exercises.


Several students were excited initially to take part in the assignment but quickly realized how much is involved in caring for a baby.


The hardest part was getting up in the middle of the night. I was really tired,” admitted ‘Chloe.’


Totally,” agreed ‘Grace’, “I was sick that weekend and there was one time that I couldn’t get him to stop crying. It was so hard, and I got so frustrated.”


“I did like having someone rely on me. But I realize how important it is to plan for pregnancy,” Chole added. “I’d definitely like to work with kids in the future, though.”


I’m more sure about having kids now but definitely know I need to wait. Before we did this, I thought I could handle it if I got pregnant. Now I know I’m not mature enough,” ‘Maddi’ confessed.


Actually, that’s VERY mature of you to realize that, Maddi,” said Carmony. “That warms my heart.”


Other students reported being more confident about babysitting and working with young children as a result of the class. It seems they learned a lot about themselves, too.


In half an hour the teens assembled about 45 diaper packs. Many hands make light work even amongst the constant teenage chatter.


These kids are the next generation of parents and of employees who are going to need childcare. Illustrating the need for great early learning experiences and increasing their ability to provide them, teaches them how to be part of the solution,” shared McCorkle.


She continued, “First5 is invested in making positive changes for families with young children. But we don’t work in isolation. Kathi and Amanda are running a phenomenal program with Tot Time. The diaper pantry collaborates with our food and clothing pantries to meet families where they are. Our preschool teachers are becoming mentors for new childcare providers. Throughout Rush County, we are working together, trying to complement each other’s services.” Collaboration is key.


Even when it’s really hard to measure the impact of what we are doing, we know it’s worth it. Both common sense and research agree on this one. Giving kids a strong start pays off. Kids with great early experiences become better students, better employees, and healthier human beings.”


Isn’t that something we want for everyone?! If you’d like to support the work of First5, you can make a donation to RCCF’s First5 Fund. Give online at or by mailing/dropping off a check: RCCF, 117 N. Main Street, Rushville, IN 46173. Volunteers are needed and welcome, too. Contact Jeri McCorkle, to get involved.

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