FERGUSON — Myesha Ware remembers learning how to sew on buttons and drive a car as a high school student in the 1990s. Now she laments that her daughter didn’t learn cursive or take a driver’s ed class before graduating.
Ware brought her daughter, I’lysa Walker, to the Ferguson Municipal Public Library for its Adulting 101: Life Skills, Life Lessons course. The free classes will be held monthly this summer with topics including cooking, budgeting, household maintenance and car repair.
“Schools are pushing for tests and careers,” Ware said. “You can teach your kids, but sometimes you miss things.”
Adulting classes have popped up at libraries around the country in the past few years to teach young adults how to find a job, buy insurance, make a budget and change a tire. Organizers say the classes are a response to the lack of home economics, woodworking and auto shop offerings in American high schools.
Earlier this year, the teen lounge in the downtown St. Louis Central Library hosted adulting classes on apartment hunting, budgeting and tenants’ rights. Rachelle Brandel, Ferguson’s adult services librarian, said she decided to offer the classes after talking to library users in their 20s about what they’d like to learn.
“There’s always been a desire to gain the knowledge, but these topics can be daunting when going at it alone,” Brandel said.
Walker, 18, said she wanted to gain independence before starting college in the fall at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where she plans to major in pre-pharmacy. During high school, she focused on career goals, including a hands-on summer institute at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.
The adulting class will help with “a lot of things I need to educate myself on before going to college and needing to do it on my own,” Walker said.
Home economics classes fell out of favor in the 1970s as women entered the workforce in greater numbers. By the 1990s, home economics was renamed family and consumer sciences in an effort to broaden its appeal.
A focus on standardized testing, and more rigorous college requirements, hastened the decline of life skills classes. While the percentage of students who take the courses has fallen since its 1960s peak, the classes are still offered in high schools in all 50 states, according to the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, which will host its annual conference for educators in St. Louis this month.
The adulting classes are generally aimed at the 18 to 24 crowd, but librarians say some older widows and widowers have come to learn household skills that their spouse had always handled.
At the Ferguson library’s first class, five participants learned how to make homemade spaghetti, eggplant Parmesan and garlic bread. They took turns peeling and chopping onions, garlic and tomatoes.
“We could have just bought spaghetti sauce, but this is a lot more fun,” Brandel told the class.
Brandel also inadvertently taught first aid skills when she cut her finger with a knife (the chef’s bleeding protocol: toss tainted food, wash the knife, put on a bandage and a glove).
After finishing the spaghetti dinner, the class got budgeting tips and worksheets from Reginald Garth of the St. Louis treasurer’s office of financial empowerment.
Ty Stanton, 25, and Jordan Lowery, 24, said they came to the class at the urging of Stanton’s grandmother. The couple wanted financial advice to balance their budget and get out of debt.
“The budgeting part is what I’m here for,” Stanton said. “We’re trying to get our lives under control.”