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Students try fun professions at 'eXtreme' summer program
Culinary, forensic and home improvement classes featured
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Anna McMichael, 13, mixes marshmallow fondant for cakes during a culinary arts class as part of the eXtreme eXperiences summer camp Thursday at Lanier Career Academy. The program, which is offered through Hall County Schools, provides students the opportunity to work with digital media, crime scene investigation, building and culinary arts. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

With tall chef hats on their heads, students scurried around the room with pastry bags, bowls and handfuls of sugar. Freshly baked cupcakes and scones lined tables along a wall, and the scent of sweets permeated the hallway.

It’s the tastiest classroom.

On Thursday, 29 Hall County middle school students wrapped up their weeklong “eXtreme eXperiences” pastry chef class hosted at Lanier Career Academy. After trying their skills at fruit tarts, chocolate macadamia nut mousse and marshmallow fondant, a few of the students knew for sure they want to be chefs.

“I just love cooking,” Madison Coffey, an upcoming eighth-grader at West Hall Middle School, said while putting a finishing glaze on her raspberry scone. “I’ve always liked to be in the kitchen. This is better than being in the classroom because you get to do what you like and be in a different atmosphere.”

Coffey, who was interested in being a pastry chef before she took the class, signed up when fliers were passed around at her school to offer students firsthand opportunities to study construction, forensics, digital media and pastries.

Her friend, Priscalla Medrano, an eighth-grader at C.W. Davis Middle School, wants to be a pastry chef, too.

“I thought I should start learning now,” she said while folding marshmallow fondant. “My aunt makes and sells cakes, and I help her sometimes.”

Dara Lavallee, teacher of the class for a second year, deftly directed students around the room and helped them apply icing, mix batter or cut slices.

“This class really teaches them about the real-life work experiences,” she said. “It’s very creative, and they can express themselves and get a taste of what being a chef is like.”

Some of the students already expressed interest in studying more with her in the Chestatee Middle School Culinary Eagles program.
“Now I’m getting them a little bit trained,” Lavallee said with a laugh. “They get great experience with tools — we’ve got a mixer, pans and different utensils. I used a blowtorch to brown the meringue, so that was fun for them.”

On one side of the room, Nic Fossali and Jacob Frier broke the stereotype that girls are the ones in the kitchen.

“I love cooking,” said Fossali, an upcoming freshman at Flowery Branch High School. “I just think it’s fun.”

“You get to work with your hands,” said Frier, a seventh-grader at the Da Vinci Academy. “Some kids don’t know what they want to do in life, and this helps them understand the cooking industry.”

Down the hall, groups of students investigated a mock crime scene and analyzed fingerprints, footprints, hair samples and fabric fibers to determine which classmate committed the crime. Later in the afternoon, the students would present evidence at a mock trial to convict the criminal.

“Don’t touch the body and contaminate the crime scene,” Debbie King, health care science instructor at West Hall High School, said as students collected evidence. “Plan it out. What do you do first? Who will do which part of the investigation?”

Down the road at Home Depot, students completed their fourth tile mosaic and their own wooden toolboxes.

“We’ve been placing tile like you lay floor in a house,” said Wayne Cloyes, a Home Depot worker who helped construction teachers Baker Pulliam of Chestatee Middle School and Mike Madsen of West Hall Middle School. “We drew the designs on paper, superimposed them on the board and broke the tiles to fit the design.”

Kyle Hedberg, a seventh-grader at Davis, helps his dad do painting work but enjoyed working with large saws and wood this week.

“It’s really a hands-on experience,” he said. “I think it’s good for students as we get older. We can save money by fixing our own houses.”

Next week, Hall County students will take part in three new “eXtreme eXperiences:” observing hospitality and tourism in Northeast Georgia, learning about energy and welding at Lanier Technical College, and creating their own pasta and bread. Each four-day class costs $75.

“The cooking classes always fill up as soon as we announce them,” said Cindy Blakley, Hall County director of secondary education and principal of LCA. “It’s really a great way to explore careers of interest.”

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