Kent ISD — Janita Mcgruther carefully places the cutter on the pie dough to cut out a leaf. Next, the Grand Rapids’ Central High School junior picks up a long metal spreader.
“I am making the leaf by taking the edge of the spreader and putting it on the middle to make a line,” she explains to a visitor. “And then I go across the leaf to make more lines.”
Beside her, classmate Faith Buyce takes a pie tin, places it on the dough and cuts out a circle. The Forest Hills Central junior then cuts a smaller circle using that circle to make leaves.
“I think this is really fun,” Faith said as she worked to finish the top of a raspberry pie by running a fork over the edges to seal the top and bottom crusts together. “You can be creative doing this, and you get to learn how the professionals make them.”
Janita and Faith are part of the Kent Transition Center’s hospitality/culinary program, which gives students skills in cooking, baking and food preparation. Throughout the year, they work on several projects, the first being making pies.
Heaping Helpings of Math and Science
“I believe we have about 352 pies this year, which is a lot of pies,” said hospitality/culinary instructor Ryan Marklevitz, adding that the activity was part of the culinary program when he joined the staff in 2009. Even the COVID pandemic didn’t stop the annual activity last year.
Every year, an email is sent in early November to Kent ISD staff and KTC families to place orders for $5 raspberry, blueberry, chocolate chip walnut and caramel apple pies. As orders are taken, students learn to make crusts. The money raised from pie sales goes into the Kent ISD general fund.
“There is a lot of math involved in this as the students are working with fractions such as quarters, halves and three-fourths,” Marklevitz said. There’s also some science, he added, since cooking involves how different ingredients react and work together.
“At the beginning of the school year, I usually bring the students into the kitchen and give them a cookie recipe,” Marklevitz said. “They usually kill the dough, but then we go through and talk about why it happened and how eggs bind and what baking soda does.”
The students take that first lesson with them, carefully measuring the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, caramel and cinnamon. “Don’t forget the cinnamon,” says Innovation Central High junior Arianna Aguyo with a laugh.
Marklevitz gives Arianna a thumbs up after checking her ingredients, and she begins to assemble the pie.
“I like getting all the ingredients together,” Arianna says, and adds that her favorite pie is pumpkin. “I like all the different recipes.”
School to Work
“It’s all done,” announces Tri-County High School junior Hannah Weathercoax.
“Did you forget something?” Marklevitz asks. Hannah pauses and looks at the pie piled high with apples and covered in caramel.
“The crumb,” she says with a grin. “I can’t believe I forgot the crumb.”
Hannah takes the pie back to her station and carefully adds the crumb then steps back and smiles.
All the pies had to be done by pickup day, Nov. 22.
“It gives the students a really good idea of how the food industry works,” said Marklevitz, who has more than 20 years in the culinary field. “By having real customers, people who want their items at a certain time, it teaches the students about the fast pace and completing an order on time.”
After the initial year in the KTC kitchen, students intern at local food service businesses, getting more hands-on experience and, for some, the skills to secure work after they graduate.
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