Knoch High School to debut food science curriculum

| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, 12:31 a.m.

This year, test tubes and Petri dishes will be on the counter alongside the pots and pans in Knoch High School's family consumer science class.

A new curriculum that blends science concepts with food preparation means students won't just be making tacos from ground meat. They'll be growing bacteria from various stages of undercooked burger.

Teacher Melissa Grantz spent a week during July in Washington, D.C., for a food science training program and toured Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture facilities in Maryland.

She was one of 32 teachers nationwide — and the only one from Pennsylvania — chosen for the program. There were more than 200 applicants.

Grantz plans to implement the “Science and Our Food Supply” curriculum this year. It is designed to educate students about food safety, food-borne illnesses and what's needed to get food from farms to stores.

“I actually had the curriculum before I went there, but, not being a science teacher or having that background, I didn't feel prepared to teach it to my students,” she said. “We worked through all the experiments, so I feel more capable of teaching it to my students.”

Consumer science is an elective at South Butler and one that students like because they get to eat during class, Grantz said. But she thinks students are going to like the new aspects of the course.

“The experiments are pretty cool; I think they'll be excited to do them,” Grantz said. “I think they'll like it because it's all hands-on.”

Among the experiments is “mystery juices,” in which students judge the benefits of pasteurization by identifying and testing processed and unprocessed juices.

Grantz had to apply for the training program and said she did so because of the growing emphasis on incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) into more subjects.

“Cooking is science-based, but explaining the science background to the students I usually didn't do,” she said.

High school Assistant Principal Tyler Vargo, who wrote a letter to support Grantz's application, said he thinks it's important for students to understand the kind of behind-the-scenes science of food.

“When most people hear consumer science, you think you're making cookies or doing child development things,” he said. “In trying to fulfill a need and help out with other curriculums, (Grantz) came across an opportunity that would incorporate the science of what goes into large-scale agriculture.”

The training is part of an FDA and National Science Teachers Association professional development program in food science. As part of the program, Grantz will travel to Long Beach, Calif., in December for follow-up training. She'll also need to train at least 15 other teachers in the district on the curriculum.

Vargo said he's hopeful that the new lessons can be taught district-wide.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or

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