The project incorporated math and science concepts, but intrinsic was a far loftier lesson: It’s important to help those in need.
Approximately 1,250 dinner rolls and six loaves of bread were made and delivered to the Lutheran Service Society’s Meals on Wheels, which provides nutritious meals for eligible senior citizens with physical or financial limitations that prevent them from shopping for and preparing their own meals.
In Beaver County, Meals on Wheels serves 150 clients in 28 communities.
“I think it’s very, very nice that we’re helping out the community,” said 10-year-old Brett Barthelemy, a fifth-grader in Bridget Biggins’ class. “I really enjoy doing it for the greater good. I just think that we should really give back to the elderly a lot. They have done a lot for this generation right now, and I think we should help them.”
Mike Dengel, manager of the county’s Meals on Wheels program, agreed.
“Gosh, it was wonderful,” he said. “Sometimes these kids are impressive when they come up with these ideas on their own and decide to make it happen.”
Lisa Burnsworth of Economy, parent of fifth-grader Brynn, suggested bread baking as a project for the academy’s Take Action Club, an after-school, service-learning club that challenges students to identify local and global issues and encourages them to take action to improve their communities.
Burnsworth directed sixth-grader Aleenia Reich, who founded the club a few years ago, to King Arthur Flour, an American company that supplies flour and baking materials and also sponsors Bake for Good. Burnsworth’s colleague, Eileen Brennan, learned of Bake for Good at a workshop a few years ago.
Bake for Good, launched in 1992, is part of the company’s educational outreach teaching students the know-how of making bread from scratch. Besides learning fractions, reading and understanding recipes and conversion charts, measuring dry and liquid ingredients, and the chemistry behind baking, they also learn problem solving, teamwork, patience and especially compassion by sharing what they make with those in need.
“It makes me feel really good,” Aleenia said. “I know that I’m helping out people who cannot cook for themselves. … It feels really nice that I can help out.”
The young bakers started the day watching a step-by-step, King Arthur Flour tutorial video on bread making.
Afterward, they washed their hands, rolled up their sleeves and in groups of four to five visited a work station laden with bowls, liquid and dry measuring utensils, spoons and ingredients: warm water, flour, yeast, sugar, salt and cooking oil.
Once they filled their bowls with ingredients, they went to desktops covered with parchment paper and set about stirring and kneading.
“Push away, turn it around, roll toward you, push away, turn it around, fold, push — I think I got it,” said a satisfied Dakota Jones, 11, a fifth-grader in Melanie Houston’s class, on his kneading technique.
Partner Hoby Schweikert, 11, gently pressed his fingertips in the soft mound, and when it bounced back, he knew it was ready to be placed in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap and clean towel, and then left to rise.
Reflecting on the experience, fifth-grader Andrew Kennaday said baking dough is “a lot harder than you think. You have to have a lot of teamwork ’cause one mess-up and it could destroy the entire thing.”
Later that day, kindergarteners — with the assistance of art teacher Jessica Graff and the Sisters of St. Joseph — divided and shaped dough into dinner rolls that were baked in the cafeteria’s commercial ovens.
Meals on Wheels personnel picked up the rolls that were frozen to keep them fresh, Dengel said. On Monday, volunteers packaged rolls in sandwich bags that will complement meals delivered Wednesday.
Clients, he said, receive two meals: a brown-bag lunch consisting of a sandwich, fruit and dessert and a three-course dinner tray that can be heated in a microwave.
Rolls made by academy students, he said, will be a “little bonus surprise” and “really, really appreciated” by clients. He also gave shout-outs Boy Scouts who are decorating meal bags this week for St. Patrick’s Day and to other school classes that create “little calling cards” to insert in bags with greetings like “have a nice day.”
“All activities we do show that even somebody as young as elementary school students can make a positive difference in the world,” said Taylor Breaden, fifth-grade teacher and Take Action Club’s coach.
Projects have included charitable fundraising to benefit a food bank, cancer studies at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, clean-water initiatives in Africa, Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria and awareness of the plight of the homeless.
Aleenia designs projects and creates lesson and action plans for her colleagues, said Ellen Cavanaugh, director of the academy’s Media Lab, which supports creativity and discovery. Aleenia graduates this year. Third-grader Bella Rivera will helm the club next year.
Take Action Club is but one of several after-school clubs. Others include chess, future engineers, origami, photography and filmmaking, computer and technology, robotics and mobile app design.
Cavanaugh also supervises a number of arts-infused learning projects that pair students with outside mentors in various disciplines — engineering, technology, food science, theater, dance, creative writing, for example.
“I’m always so impressed with what the kids can do,” Breaden said.
Being an arts-integrated school enables the infusion of creative and performing arts into the traditional academic curriculum, she said, and that extends to life, too.
“The whole purpose of us being arts integrated and using arts to teach things is we want those kids to make connections not only cross-curricular, but to things from school to outside life and the arts is a really great way to explore that because it teaches them real-world problem solving.”