At an early age, Meridian Home Economics teacher LaVern Bartlett learned the importance of the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (or FCCLA) curriculum. Some topics include parenting and family relationships, sustainability, nutrition and fitness, and career preparation.
I get to share little pieces of what people need to do to make it in life.
Or, as LaVern shares, “I get to share little pieces of what people need to do to make it in life. This is a leadership program.”
LaVern learned independence and the value of hard work at an early age. Her father passed away when she was in second grade. As the eleventh of thirteen siblings, LaVern watched her mother transition from being a stay-at-home mother to working as a student aide. At age ten, LaVern started spending her summers working in the field, picking cotton to help put food on the table. Everyone did their part.
“She was a single mom; my father passed, so we worked. My mom didn’t want to do welfare or anything, so in the summer, I was in the fields chopping cotton from fifth grade until I was a senior,” says LaVern.
LaVern admires her mother, who worked at night so that she’d be home with her kids during the day. She ensured a hot meal was waiting when LaVern and her siblings returned home from school and basketball. Sundays were for church, and summers involved working. Or, as LaVern tells it, ‘we all did what we had to do.’
LaVern has dedicated her life to helping children rise. She graduated from SEMO University with a degree in food service and nutrition and a minor in health. She has also been married to her husband, Mark, for thirty-two years. As a history teacher in Northern Arkansas, Mark is also no stranger to the needs of today’s youth.
LaVern believes students need to invest in things they’re interested in. This mentality reinforces the FCCLA framework. While she taught home economics for eight straight years, she was also Meridian’s home economics teacher when the program was briefly eliminated, along with art and music, due to budgeting constraints.
While LaVern has worked several jobs focused on enhancing children’s lives, she was happy to return to Meridian and has noticed positive incremental changes throughout her tenure. She considers her class structured and disciplined, admitting that she struggles to sit idle, a trait she likely models after her mother. While she clearly enjoys watching the students grow, she takes a tough-love approach.
She smiles and says, “I’m giving them real life. I’m preparing them for jobs. I tell them, nobody will hold your hand.”
She shares an example: “If I’d been taught more about finance, my finances would have been a whole lot better. Now that all this knowledge is in me, I’ve got to give it to them. I’ve got to teach them how to get an apartment, that you’ll have to pay a deposit, how to budget, those basic things. I ask, what do you need if you move out? What do you need if you go to college?”
Ultimately, LaVern’s students walk into adulthood stronger and more ready to push through life’s ups and downs. Or, as she concludes, “I do hear from kids after the fact. They say Mrs. Bartlett told us right.”