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Making It Work

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Delaine Stendahl is one of those people who focuses on doing a good job and day by day, builds a reputation for outstanding work in her field. She’s been the family and consumer science (FCS) teacher for Whitehall Memorial Schools for more than 40 years. She serves as the hospitality pathway instructor for the Trempealeau Valley Cooperative Schools (TVC2.0), which includes Whitehall and three other districts. She’s always done what was needed to make her area work and work well.

The TVC2.0 has provided a professional FCS network close to home, making it possible for three FCS instructors to focus on specific pathways and ultimately expand offerings. In addition to culinary, Mrs. Stendahl teaches middle school FCS, fashion and interior design, infant and toddler development, and several health science courses and serves as the advisor for the FCCLA and HOSA chapters. Students in the four districts travel to Whitehall for capstone level courses in culinary arts, many of which are dual-credit courses.

Her industriousness came in handy her first year teaching when, fresh out of UW-Stout, she came into a two-person FCS department, serving 70-80 students. “I was fortunate,” says Mrs. Stendahl. “The other teacher, Pat Brodecki Thorsbakken, was a great resource, and the amount of information to prepare was large.”

When she first joined the staff at Whitehall, she came into an old school, but in 1991-92, the district built a new school. And when the school later added on, she was given the old food service kitchen, which became her first commercial laboratory.

While Whitehall was improving its facilities, Mrs. Stendahl was improving her skills. Over the years, for example, she added a master’s degree in administration from Winona State University and served as CTE coordinator, managing more than $575,000 in grants in a single year.

When she won a scholarship for ProStart teacher trainings, she says, “They changed my thinking about how to operate with students.” She gained advanced skills and experience working in commercial kitchens and built confidence in using commercial equipment effectively. Since then, she is the only FCS educator to have won the Home Baking Association Teacher of the Year award (2016 and 2019) twice.

While she had been awarded scholarships to grow professionally, she knew that attendance was limited and the cost was prohibitive for many teachers. She wanted to give others the same opportunities she’d been given and ensure FCS programs continued to flourish.

“FCS teachers needed to see that they could think big,” says Mrs. Stendahl.

Certified to teach ProStart, she developed her own summer FCS workshop at Whitehall Memorial Schools. Now in its sixth year, this year’s workshop is titled FCS Foundations of Baking Workshop. The annual event draws FCS teachers from as far away as Maryland and Texas, most of whom lodge at the school for free. Along with pizza sales, scone sales, and catering events, the summer workshop helps provide financial resources and opportunities for students, including a hospitality scholarship.

Three years ago, the district gave her the go-ahead to convert the residential-style classroom to a commercial baking laboratory, creating a second commercial kitchen for the program. By purchasing used equipment, the room was converted to a more than $100K lab for about $30K paid for through grants and donations.

Area demographics indicate that student population is rising once again. She has supervised several teacher interns and is looking to bring another on board this fall. Having an intern will enable her to take the technical college’s Foundations in Baking course virtually. “I’m really excited about learning new skills and building a strong relationship with the college instructor,” she says. And it will also open the opportunity to align Whitehall’s FCS curriculum and create another dual-credit course for future students.

“I am lucky to be supported through my administration to be creative and free to try new approaches in my classroom and program. I feel appreciated and respected in my school,” says Mrs. Stendahl.

She’s managed to make it all work. And even though COVID has made it necessary to temporarily disassemble the baking laboratory to create additional space for desks, she says, “the biggest thing I’ve learned is every day is only a day. The next day is a new day.” Wise words from a Wisconsin Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Teacher of the Year.