A civics lesson that's easy to digest


The Inner Harbor has never looked better.

Forget the twinkling lights and tinsel-trimmed trees decorating the real thing. Some creative third-graders at Milbrook Elementary School can top that with their gingerbread rendition of Baltimore's hallmarks: Harborplace, the World Trade Center, the National Aquarium and even the Constellation, with Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- really a bear-shaped cookie with a shock of white icing on its head -- at the helm.

The Baltimore County youngsters finished a recent social studies lesson on cities by creating a delicious view of one of Baltimore's most famous cityscapes. The 29 children in Joanne Phillips' class were the planners and exterior decorators. They had construction help from their student teacher and project manager, Cindy Coughlin, and her friend, David Perry, a chef who knows his way around gingerbread.

"We wanted a project that would bring together what we'd learned," said Ms. Coughlin, a student at Towson State University. The children not only decided what to include, but also worked with recipes and drawings to figure out how much flour and other ingredients they would need. "I didn't think it was going to be such a hit," she said.

Or such work.

Ms. Coughlin made 210 pounds of dough, working until 4 o'clock one weekend morning. By 8, she and Mr. Perry were in the kitchen of a Kent Narrows restaurant baking sheets of gingerbread. That took 12 hours.

Mr. Perry photographed the buildings he wanted to reproduce, made sketches and then shaped and cut the baked gingerbread. He needed help from a friend with a bigger van to get the gingerbread to the Pikesville-area school.

The project turned out to be a lesson in social studies, and more, the children said:

"We learned the root of ginger has a real strong taste," Scott Sener said.

"I learned that teamwork really gets the job done," added Marcus Gillen-Davis.

"I learned that cities don't have to be in states. Washington is on its own," Yuriy Mamed-Zade said.

"We learned that to make the cream [icing] harden, all we have to put in is cream of tartar," Arthur Brockington explained.

The icing, with the cream of tartar as a stabilizer, is the sweet caulking that holds the gingerbread walls together, said Mr. Perry, who operates Casual Caterers in Stevensville. He said he makes at least one gingerbread structure each holiday season -- usually for his nieces and nephews.

The Milbrook youngsters will give some lessons, too -- especially in sharing. Although they hate to see it go, Milbrook's third-graders are giving their Inner Harbor confection to others: It's moving to the trade center where it will be on display at The Top of the World, and after that, they will give it to soup kitchen operator Bea Gaddy.

For Mrs. Phillips, a project of this magnitude was a new experience filled with lessons, too. "I learned about teamwork and how to make a city scene come to life and the pride you get from a wonderful project," she said.

There is no doubt about the liveliness of the children's city scene: Hordes of cookie and candy bears cram Harborplace, where white-icing icicles hang from the pavilions' cookie-covered roofs. Pretzel masts hold the Constellation's M&M-studded; sails; multicolored Fruit Roll-ups cover the windows of the trade center, and upside-down sugar-cone trees brim with licorice, gumdrops and chocolate chips.

The children didn't overlook much: They included paddle boats in the harbor, the submarine Torsk alongside the aquarium and even Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. He's that red jelly bear perched on the aquarium's apex, high above the water.

And if he loses his balance? Don't worry. The children gave him a life preserver -- a sugar-coated ring of gooey candy around his waist.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad