Over the past 17 years, Patti Farlee has taught many Riverside-Brookfield High School students how to cook, and so much more. But, Farlee has taught her last RBHS student, deciding to retire after a 33-year career in education.
“I always jokingly say I love working with teenagers, even when they have knives and fire,” Farlee said.
Farlee was a popular teacher, going so far as creating an indoor wooden food truck along with applied arts teachers Patty Sarkady and Dave Weishaar. The three teachers won a best practices award from the Des Plaines Valley Region Education for Employment Regional Delivery System, a consortium of school districts in the Triton Community College district for the food truck.
Her Advanced Foods students made the food, Weishaar’s engineering and technology students built the “truck,” and Sarkady’s business students handled the marketing, sales, and finances.
Tacos were an especially big hit when the truck was set up in the cafeteria.
“Patti Farlee will be missed,” said RBHS Principal Hector Freytas in an email. “She added value to RB, our foods program and the lives of our Bulldogs.”
Farlee’s students have won numerous awards over the years in state level competitions sponsored by the Family Career Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). This past year, five RBHS students took home gold medals in FCCLA state level competitions and Sophia Richter won the Most Outstanding in the State award in the frosted cake category with a Marvel superhero theme.
As a teenager growing up in Batavia, Farlee first had her sights set on becoming an English teacher. But, when she was a junior at Aurora Central Catholic High School, a home economics (as it used to known) teacher told Farlee that since she seemed to enjoy home ec classes, maybe she should teach that. And she did.
After graduating from Western Illinois University, Farlee was hired to teach home ec at Humphrey Middle School in Batavia. After cutbacks there cost her that job, she went to Fenton High School and eventually came to RBHS 17 years ago.
Ironically, cooking was a particular strength or an area she especially concentrated on in college. She had more background and knowledge of consumer economics and other areas of home economics. She asked to be given food classes while she was student teaching to build up her capabilities in that area.
“That was something I gained strength in through my years of teaching, but that was not my go-to out of the gate,” Farlee said.
When she first came to RBHS she taught also taught classes in human growth and development, health occupations and consumer economics as well as foods before concentrating on food classes in her later years. She said her Foods classes were usually equally mixed between boys and girls.
“There’s not more girls than boys,” Farlee said. “That’s a myth; it’s truly balanced.”
In Foods I, Farlee taught various cooking techniques as well as nutrition and healthy eating in a broad and non-dogmatic approach.
“There is no such thing as junk food, except pop,” Farlee said.
She taught knife skills and how to debone chicken, fish and meat and how to be organized in the kitchen. Foods I students would learn how to cook a stir fry.
Her classroom at RBHS has seven cooking stations with gas stoves. The classroom was built and furnished after the passage of the 2006 referendum that resulted in the renovation of the school.
A camera at the teaching station in the front of the classroom projects what Farlee is doing on to screens in the classroom so that all the students in the classroom can closely observe the techniques that she demonstrates.
Her Foods II class focused on international cuisine, with each student picking a country’s cuisine.
Farlee’s classes were popular — typically she had 27 students, the maximum allowed. She was a dedicated and passionate teacher. Even this year, on the verge of retirement, Farlee stayed until the very end of Future Bulldog night, selling eighth graders on Foods classes.
This year RBHS had another Foods teacher, Grant Lewis, who worked with Farlee and will take over some of her classes.
“Grant will bring a lot to the table,” Farlee said. “I’m sure that Grant will do a great job.”
Another teacher, who is coming from outside RBHS and has been hired to be the Applied Arts division head, will also teach some Foods classes.
“The numbers have definitely been building over the years,” Farlee said.
She said that she is retiring because “it’s time.” She has noticed in recent years that she gets more tired than she used to. She said that people who work in other jobs don’t understand how demanding a job teaching is.
“Not only are we in charge of the content, we’re in charge of the audiovisuals, we’re in charge of keeping people engaged, we’re in charge of answering questions, we’re in charge of making sure that somebody gets back from the bathroom on time or has to go to the dean’s office,” Farlee said. “That is all the joy of it.”
In retirement Farlee intends to travel more, often with a focus on cooking, and to spend more time with her 87-year-old mother.
“I would like to go international and take different cooking classes in Italy and Spain,” Farlee said. “I’d like to travel beyond summer.”