Community-focused advisor for FCCLA guides students to see their full potential

May 5—Yuliya Lazarenko, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Newton High School, did not know how many students to expect for her first year advising the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) club. Honestly, she would have been happy with just a small handful of kids wanting to participate.

When she learned about 40 students were interested in joining, she tapered her expectations and thought only a small fraction would fully commit. To her surprise — and to her delight — the newly established FCCLA would start out with a total of 25 students of varying grade levels throughout the whole school year.

"I know next year we're looking at even more students joining," Lazarenko said. "I've even had more come in during the year and they're like, 'Can I join next year?' And I tell them they can join now! And they do! They come join us but they're like, 'We're officially joining at the beginning next year.'"

FCCLA is a nationally recognized student-led organization formerly known as Future Homemakers of America. The nonprofit has more than 5,000 chapters established across the country, and its advisors focus on a number of youth concerns, such as parenting and family relationships.

For Lazarenko, who has worked in the district since January 2023, the club is an extension of what she does as a family and consumer sciences teacher.

As one of three "home ec" teachers in the high school, Lazarenko primarily focuses on design classes like sewing and interior design; in fact a number of the student works are on display in the classroom. But she also teaches parenting and child development, among other family subjects.

So, in other words, she is teaching kids "how to be an adult." FCCLA was founded on similar principles and goals.

The year-round FCCLA club meets in the classroom and after school. Lazarenko incorporates a lot of classroom projects and activities with the community. The sewing they learned in class will translate to a project or assignment, and the products of those sewing projects are then donated to the community.

Which is partly why Lazarenko wanted to form the group in Newton High School. As a past member of FCCLA herself, she witnessed the value a group like that can have on the community. This has resulted in a number of community-based activities, like participating in storytime at the library and hosting bake sales.

"We also went to Park Centre and played board games with the residents back in January. I don't know who had more fun with that, the kids or the residents!" Lazarenko said. "The kids walked away in tears almost because they felt so loved and appreciated and had such a blast."

Since it was the group's first year and Lazarenko did not know what to fully expect, she feels like FCCLA did not get to do as many community service projects as it would have liked to. But the 2024-2025 school year will be different, she said, and there is already a rough draft of activities compiled.

"We will be doing a lot more next year," she said.

The Newton-based FCCLA also has a variety of students participating in these community service projects. Lazarenko said many students are in other activities like music or sports, but some are not active in any kind of extracurricular. They did not have a place they could call home until FCCLA.

"When we did this a lot of them joined and are like, 'Oh now I fit in! I feel like I have a place!' Which almost made me cry when they said that," Lazarenko said.

Students feel like they are fitting in and most are even stepping out of their comfort zones. Lazarenko said everything FCCLA has done this year has introduced students to something they have never done before, like organizing a bake sale full of homemade cupcakes, cookies, cake pops and the like.

"Then in December we did Christmas wrapping," Lazarenko said. "So the kids were able to wrap presents that people brought in. They had a blast!"

Activities like these not only help students become more engaged with their community and their fellow students, but it also teaches them valuable leadership skills as they transition out of school and into adulthood. Although Lazarenko is the advisor to FCCLA, she said it is the students who lead the charge.

Still, in a way, Lazarenko serves as a liaison to the students, guiding them toward a more productive adult life after graduation. The best part? She gets to see the moment when students surprise themselves and recognize their potential, finding something in themselves that they didn't even know they had.

To her, there is no better feeling.

"They didn't know they could be leaders as much as they are," she said. "Hearing them say they surprised themselves with their ability of becoming a leader was heartwarming to me because I could see it. It was just nice for me to see they finally saw the potential that I've been seeing in them."


Why did you want to establish FCCLA in the first place?

Lazarenko: Back when I was in high school we had FCCLA and it was just kind of a really nice club to have that focused all aspects on family and consumer sciences. So it focused a lot on being active with the community while incorporating what we learned and what we focused on, which was families, children, culinary, design — all of that. We're able to utilize everything we'd learn and give back to the community.

What do the students make of the FCCLA club?

Lazarenko: They're just so active and I love that. I have a variety of students. I have some that are very active in other organizations like band and choir and student council and different sports as well. Then I have students who aren't really active in different activities because they didn't feel like they had a place where they belonged. They just kind of felt like they didn't have a home.

How have parents and families responded to the club?

Lazarenko: We've had a lot of support from the parents of the kids who are in the club, which as been phenomenal! A lot of the parents are also supportive of their kids being active in FCCLA and have helped out a lot, too. Having that support from them, too, has meant so much.

What is one of the things you enjoy most about FCCLA?

Lazarenko: So "home ec" is known more as a female-oriented club. But we have males and females. That right there shows it's very welcoming and open to everybody!

What things can we expect from FCCLA next year?

Lazarenko: We have a lot of things planned. We haven't really discussed a lot of it with the community because we don't really know if it's going to work out or not. But we are focusing on a lot of community involvement for next year. They're excited about it! I'm excited about it! So we're definitely hoping to have more of a presence in the community next year.