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Exploring Confectionary Creations and Careers

The opening of Ethridge’s Sweet Shop immersive art exhibition is just the icing on the cake.

Walking into Ethridge Elementary’s Sweet Shop Bakery, customers are immediately transported back to the 1950’s. Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” blasts from the jukebox, student volunteers sport their finest greaser jackets and poodle skirts while the scent of cotton candy and baking pizzelles fills the room. But taking a closer look, guests may just be able to make out that the ornately decorated cakes, beautifully glazed donuts and perfectly constructed petit fours are actually creatively camouflaged works of art created by elementary students for this one-of-a-kind immersive exhibit.

The bakery, brainchild of Ethridge art teacher Chelzeé Lentz, aims to expand upon how students think about art, and how it can impact and be used in many facets of the students’ lives and future career paths. Inspired by the work of artist Wayne Thiebaud, who became famous for his paintings of classic symbols of Americana and items found in diners, such as cakes, pies and candy machines, Lentz envisioned an environment that could combine creative pursuits with career goals.

“I’m showing kids that they can use art to make a career,” explained Lentz. “You can use it in your job, even if you join the Army [like Thiebaud], if you do any of these different things you can still do art.”

Lentz set to work applying for a grant through the Lewisville Education Foundation (LEF), hoping to acquire funds for the project that would incorporate the entirety of Ethridge, allow for Lentz to take her students to explore various career fields, and provide materials to create the art installation. The $1,330 grant was awarded, and the bakery immediately began to take shape. 

Each grade level and class was tasked with creating a unique display within the bakery, from kindergarten cake pops, to fourth grade donut sculptures, nearly everything in the shop was handcrafted by a student or teacher at Ethridge. Fifth graders were also encouraged to go through the job application process to be employed by the patisserie, filling out mock applications to get a feel for what might be expected in their future job searches. 

Fifth grader Jamariya earned a role as a greeter for the bakery’s opening night during Ethridge’s open house. “It’s been very fun, I’ve really liked it,” explained Jamariya. “I’ll be greeting people at the door tonight, telling people how great the sweet shop is!”

For the bakery’s debut, Lentz collaborated with Griffin Middle School consumer sciences teacher Micha McKinney, who brought several of her own students to assist with preparing a selection of real baked goods to share with exhibit attendees. On the menu were confections such as cotton candy, mini bundt cakes, lemon cookies, cupcakes and pizzelles.

“I’ve never done cotton candy, or pizzelles, so I’m learning here tonight too by helping them run the sweet shop,” laughed McKinney. “My students have been looking forward to this for so long. A lot of them went here, so walking in the halls their eyes teared up a little bit and we’re really excited to be here.”

Audrey, a seventh grader at Griffin and one of McKinney’s students, was ecstatic to be helping share her love of baking with the Ethridge students and to be surrounded by the incredible artwork.

“It’s been great to show [the Ethridge students] life skills and cooking skills tonight. I think it looks really cool in here, all of the pottery and all of the drawings, it all just looks so cool!”

In preparation for the opening of the exhibition, Ethridge students spent the morning with the TECC-East cosmetology program and instructor Kalpana Coleman. Students had their hair done, learned about the program and learned about the art of hair styling from the high school collaborators.

In addition to Griffin and TECC-East, Lentz reached out to local bakery owners to drum up further support from the community. 

“It’s involved the whole school, so we really also wanted to involve the whole community,” said Lentz. “It’s Women’s History Month, so we reached out to woman-owned businesses and bake shops out here that are sharing their baked goods and promoting their businesses and they’re supporting us.”

As parents, community members and LISD leadership poured into Ethridge to admire the artwork and be immersed in the sweet shop experience, each student that contributed to the project proudly showed off their creations. Many of the works were not only being displayed within the bakery, but had also been recently published in the National Celebrating Art Anthology.

McKinney, working to help the students fill orders for the excited crowd, was amazed at the work that had been done to get to the exhibit’s opening night.

“I think it’s amazing that an elementary school is able to put together something on such a big level. You can tell that there’s so much collaboration involved in this and it’s so cool to see.”

Lentz proudly agreed.

“Every kid in the school has touched this project and made something to go with it. It really shows them how to work together to create something bigger than themselves.”

Ethridge Elementary is an elementary school in The Colony, Texas, serving Kindergarten through 5th grade with future-ready learning experiences in the Lewisville Independent School District. Ethridge feeds into The Colony High School attendance zone. Follow Ethridge on Facebook and Twitter to see more student experiences throughout the school year. Join the Lewisville ISD family by enrolling today, or visit Best Schools in Texas to learn more.