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Students are rolling in dough

A combined exercise in architecture and art, gingerbread houses take shape in a Phoenix classroom.

Foundations in math and chemistry also help the students draw cookie patterns and mix industrial-strength dough and icing, says teacher Lynne Claflin. Months of study and test runs culminate this week with sweet results for 16 of Claflin's students at Armadillo Technical Institute competing in Medford's GingerBread Jubilee.

"I think it's just awesome that we're able to do that," says Kallie Warren, an Armadillo seventh-grader.

The seven submissions from the class helped push participation in the seventh annual Jubilee to a record 56 entries. The entirely edible sculptures reflect themes ranging from the holidays and Christian faith to this year's new category celebrating Oregon's 150th birthday. Judges today will award more than $3,500 in cash prizes to winners in adult, student and group divisions.

Competing with other students, Armadillo's gingerbread bakers are hoping their cookie renditions of a winter wonderland, desert, graveyard, spaceship and the Boy Scouts of America logo will impress judges. Before transferring the entries to the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in downtown Medford, Claflin's class will mount a preliminary exhibit at its charter school.

"They're very creative; they're very hands-on kids," Claflin says.

The 10-year-old school that serves about 125 sixth- through 12th-graders from throughout Jackson County showed a gingerbread version of its mascot in last year's Jubilee. A Craterian usher, Claflin organized the project among 12 students who worked on the extra assignment for about three weeks at lunch.

This year, Claflin expanded the experience to an entire course on building. The school, which operates on an annual budget of about $830,000, purchased some baking equipment for the class and provided two ovens, Claflin says. Although gingerbread isn't the term's only project, it is the main one for her mixed-grade class, she adds.

Before the kids ever started baking, Claflin required them to map out the entire structure on paper. Students practiced preliminary construction with saltine crackers and hot glue. The classwide opinion is that gingerbread cookery is much more challenging than it looks.

"It's hard," says eighth-grader Dylan Ridge-Storer. "It's hard and fun."

Reimagining their project several times, Dylan and ninth-grade partner James Ross retrofitted a multilevel house of stacked cubes with stilts to resemble a spaceship. Craft an alien pilot for the vehicle and a desert backdrop, and the classmates have a scene out of Roswell, N.M.

Across the table, Kallie and seventh-grade friend Charlene Allen were still drawing on inspiration from Halloween. Amid a cluster of cookie headstones, disembodied claws will clutch a skull molded from sugar and egg whites. The title "Graveyard Nightmare" emerged after much debate.

"We argued over so many names," Kallie says.

"I said 'graveyard;' you said 'nightmare,' " Charlene adds.

The classmates can agree that the process of building gingerbread is more important than prizes.

"We're just doing it for the fun," Charlene says. "We don't really care if we win or not."

Win or lose, each of Claflin's students has a reward in store. After the Jubilee, they all must re-create their gingerbread masterpieces — this time to eat.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Dylan Weeks rolls out gingerbread dough for his creation based on the Boy Scouts at Armadillo Technical Institute in Phoenix. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Jim Craven