GOLD HILL — A few dozen Hanby Middle School students spent their first day of winter break back at school learning the art of "kookieology," a newfound tradition at Hanby geared at cranking out colorful, tasty treats.

GOLD HILL — A few dozen Hanby Middle School students spent their first day of winter break back at school learning the art of "kookieology," a newfound tradition at Hanby geared at cranking out colorful, tasty treats.

The smell of peanut butter, sugar and thumbprint cookies wafted out onto the rain-soaked breezeway Monday as apron-clad students compared decorations and consulted recipes inside.

"I like a little bit of cookie with my icing," declared 13-year-old Lily Esch, as she piped some colorful white icing over a just-cooled sugar cookie.

Founded last year by former Hanby teacher Margaret Dials, "Kookie Kollege" helps students learn domestic skills and allows them to share a holiday activity with teachers and community members.

Dials said she started the event after realizing her students weren't excited to be out of school for winter break, stuck at home with nothing to do.

"Not everyone looked forward to it because they were at home, watching TV, bored," Dials said.

"We thought this would be a lot of fun, and it really has been."

Dials and her partner, Greg Hauser, launched the event last year and decided, with a pair of $100 sponsorships from the city of Gold Hill and the nonprofit CanDO organization this year, they'd make the event an annual tradition.

The Southern Oregon chapter of the American Sewing Guild provided aprons, supplies and volunteer help.

Alma Gates, home economics teacher at Hanby for 27 years, helped coordinate recipes and stations for the kids to mix, bake, decorate and help in cleanup.

Retired for 12 years, Gates said it was fun to be back at the school, teaching students something less common in schools today.

"I really feel they need this in our society nowadays. It's surprising how many kids don't get this at home," she said.

"How are they supposed to know what to do when they get out on their own? This is a lot of fun and they're learning."

Sixth-grader Aiyanna Brown, 11, said she does some cooking at home but not to the extent of Monday's cookie event.

"I mixed and baked and did dishes," said the girl.

"My sister went here last year and did it, so I was excited about getting to do it, too. It's really fun."

Eleven-year-old Ryan O'Conner, also in sixth grade, admitted it was quite a spread on Monday.

"I've baked at home," he said, assembling four colorful tree-shaped cookies on a plate.

"We do cookies and, when there's a birthday, sometimes cakes, but we don't usually have all these cool supplies and all this stuff to do it with!"

Dials said she was hopeful the event would maintain community support, for the kids' sake.

"I just really appreciate the fact the community is supporting us being able to do this. It makes a big difference to a lot of the kids," she said.

"Hopefully they're having a really good day during their break that would otherwise be wasted in front of the TV."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.