Holiday tradition provides delicate learning lessons

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By Brenda Sexton-The Courier-Herald

Stephanie Kaydus was putting the final touches on her gingerbread house Friday afternoon. She was pushing the class project deadline at Collins High School, but this junior anticipated the extra effort was worth the extra time.

Kaydus' gingerbread house is a work of art. The two-room home has a two-story cathedral window in the front and a bay window in the rear, both made from red, melted Jolly Rancher candies. The yard is dotted with chocolate rock candy. The roof is hinged with Red Vine licorice so everyone can peek inside where there is a parquet floor of pretzels, a comfy, marshmallow couch and a blazing fire in the fireplace.

“She's the only one who did the inside of her house,” said Collins High family and consumer science teacher Barb Melvin. “It's precious.”

Kaydus said the plans just came to her.

“I'm proud,” Kaydus said. “I've done arts and crafts my whole life. It made it fun. It brought back old memories.”

The project is an annual one for Collins High students. That's what drove Kaydus to such elaborate lengths with her gingerbread house. Since the project was assigned Nov. 12, Kaydus has been putting in long hours.

“She's stayed late nights sometimes working on this,” Melvin said.

“I'm inspired by my brother,” Kaydus said. “I guess he made the best house and I want to make mine so he and my mom are proud.”

Melvin said people still talk about her brother's gingerbread house and that was about nine years ago.

Melvin said students look forward to the class.

The project isn't just about baking and building. Students are required to use geometry skills they've learned. They are also asked to research their plans. They are required to do their own baking. They also must write a children's story to go with their gingerbread house. Each student also makes a presentation before judges. That was scheduled to take place Monday.

“They learn a lot,” Melvin said, but some of the students' greatest lessons, she noted, are those that can't be taught. “It gives them patience and a team effort. They have to hold the pieces, or have someone help them hold the pieces, while they are drying. Some of them shared candy to decorate them. That's a team concept not everyone gets, that's what I think is phenomenal.”

A total of 26 projects were on display in the library. They included barns, castles, churches, towers and a pueblo.

“Some of them took some time and some did put some thought into it,” Melvin said. “They're proud of their houses when they're all done.”

Melvin said students in White River's CHOICE program did a similar program this year.

Melvin's next project for students is a memory quilt.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at

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