Teacher focuses on life skills

By Kevin Wilson: Quay County Sun

Not every person who leaves Tucumcari High School will need to do differential equations.

But they will surely be better off if they know what kind of spouse they want. Or if they can stay within a budget. Or if they work well with others.

Gail Balzano takes this attitude into the four classes she teaches under the family and consumer sciences area of the school.

“A lot of people are very intelligent, but they lack social skills, so they fail,” Balzano said. “I think group work is so important. People have to learn to work with a group to be successful.”

Balzano’s efforts at THS have earned her the 2006 Newspapers in Education award from the Quay County Sun. The award is given to a teacher within Quay County who best uses newspapers as part of an overall curriculum.

Lynn Berry, NIE/community relations coordinator for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico, said he chose Balzano because she shows many facets of the newspaper and how they fit into a practical lifestyle.

“The way she used it with the consumer sciences, as far as teaching them life skills — I thought that was unique,” Berry said. “I like the way she used the program to teach them life skills as far as purchasing items and understanding the buying process.”

Balzano teaches four classes within family and consumer sciences — culinary arts, crafts and sewing, child development and independent living.

For culinary arts, Balzano uses advertisements from grocery stores so students can look at unit pricing, premiums paid for brand names and the total cost of meals based on their ingredients. In child development classes, the students create an advertisement for a babysitter and learn what skills they’d want in a babysitter. Crafts and sewing classes use the newspaper’s advertisements to find prices for craft materials. In independent living, Balzano said, students look up housing costs, vehicle expenses and what type of experience they need for advertised jobs.

In addition, students were given assignments to write their own personal ads (“It was hard for some of them, because they don’t know what they’re looking for,” she said), wedding announcements and obituaries.

“It’s practical life skills, and they’re going to use it,” Balzano said.

Tucumcari High Principal Susan Montoya nominated Balzano and three other teachers for the award, but said Balzano stood out in the way she used the newspapers.

“I nominated her because she uses (newspapers) in a very unusual way,” Montoya said. “She uses them in teaching about marketing. What she’s doing is giving very practical skills to what she’s doing, and that’s what I like.”

Berry said through the NIE program, which is funded through a partnership with Southwest Dairies, 53 teachers in Quay County are provided with newspapers and curriculum guides at no cost.

“I provide them with the newspapers, I give them curriculum guides supplied to us by the Newspaper Association of America,” Berry said. “How the teachers expand on that is what I look for (in award consideration).”

Balzano, in her fifth year at Tucumcari and her 25th year of teaching overall, said she wants students to try, and she wants them to have something to try for.

“You need a goal,” Balzano said. “You’ve got to have a goal. If you don’t have anything to work towards, you’re just there.”