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Published December 06 2011

Baking up a life lesson

FRAZEE, Minn. – Home economics classes and domestic skill programs in schools may be on the decline, but for at least one day this week, about 300 grade-school students here had their dough on the rise.

They were participating in a life skills program sponsored by The King Arthur Flour Co., a Vermont-based company that sends representatives to teach baking skills to students in hundreds of schools nationwide.

The company, coming to rural Minnesota for the first time, visited four elementary schools: Frazee Vergas and Lake Park Audubon on Monday, and Breckenridge and Underwood on Tuesday. About 800 students in grades three through seven participated.

The program is free to schools. It includes a demonstration on making dough and sends each student home with enough supplies and tools to bake two loaves: one to give away, and one for themselves.

Paula Gray, King Arthur program manager and the instructor at this week’s events, said students eat it up – literally.

“Oh my gosh, they are so jazzed to bake,” she said. “They’re actually eating their homework.”

She said they’re particularly excited about the chance to make treats such as pizza or pretzels at home.

Gray will visit about 80 schools this year – part of the 200 or so the program reaches. Last week, she was in Minneapolis; in a few days, she’ll be in Massachusetts.

She said the program incorporates a handful of academic skills: math for measurements, reading for following directions, and science in learning how baking works.

She also said it helps fill a void at a time when many states are cutting back on home skills programs.

“They’re really critical skills,” she said. “We’re teaching the next generation of bakers.”

Troy Haugen, dean of students at Frazee Vergas Elementary, echoed those sentiments.

“It’s great to just learn some of those skills,” he said. “The younger generation is probably starting to lose some of it.”

Frazee Vergas was connected to the program via its extension service. That was also the case at Underwood, said Anne Stenoien, the school’s community education director.

She said it was a fit with the school’s nutrition program, which is trying to encourage students to eat more whole grains and vegetables. Half of the flour the company gives students is wheat.

“We’re hoping each kid goes home now and uses it,” she said.

The schools dropped its home economics program years ago, she said.

Many students plan to donate loaves they make to local community organizations such as the Wahpeton Food Pantry and the Underwood Senior Dining Program.

For more information on the program, search for the Life Skills Baking Program at kingarthurflour.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502