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Young readers follow the recipe for perfect pound cake

Grandville — “Who wants to read the next step to help us figure out what the next job is?” teacher Mary Vander Meer asked her class.

A dozen hands shot up around the room, but Brenna McCune got the honors.

“Add the granulated sugar and beat on high speed for two minutes until creamed,” the third-grader read aloud from the recipe on display at the front of the class. “Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed.”

Dominic Simonelli gets a sifter ready in preparation to measure the baking powder

Throughout Grand View Elementary, the smell of baked goods wafted through the halls and the whirring of stand mixers echoed out of classrooms as each class took on a unique challenge for National Reading Month: bake an award-winning pound cake by reading and following the same recipe. 

“Kids get really good at reading fiction and nonfiction, which is all part of what we do in our classrooms, but we want them to know that there’s reading involved in lots of other aspects in life,” Vander Meer explained. 

Each class took a different approach to make their pound cake stand out from the crowd: some added chocolate chips, others topped theirs with fruit and Vander Meer’s class planned a lemon glaze. The cakes were baked by Grand View’s kitchen staff and judged by the front-office staff, who evaluated taste, texture and appearance before crowning one winner per grade level (for bragging rights only). 

But at the heart of the competition was reading. In Vander Meer’s classroom, the activity fit in well with their study of nonfiction features. 

“We talk a lot about nonfiction being sequenced writing — well, there’s nothing more sequenced than a recipe,” she said. “You have to be able to follow along with it exactly in the order it says. You can see what’s next, but you don’t want to jump ahead.”

The activity also had a tie-in to the third-grade math curriculum: the class just finished a unit on fractions, so they were able to apply that newfound knowledge to a real-life challenge.

“In baking, we have to understand what something like a half-teaspoon is — to see the fractions in the recipe and know what that means,” Vander Meer said. “The fractions and the reading combined here is just perfect for (students) to apply what we’re doing in class and to see that what we learn in school can be done every day.” 

As Vander Meer drew names for each step of the baking process, Ra’ihau Eugenio’s name was called for one of the most coveted jobs: cracking an egg. But the third-grader said he wasn’t too nervous to tackle the delicate task with everyone watching, because he’d done it before. 

In fact, he said he’s already had plenty of experience reading recipes:

“I pretty much learned to cook from my grandma, who lives in Lake Odessa,” Ra’ihau said. “She has this old box with a bunch of recipes in them, for, like, cookies and cakes, and I read her recipes.”

Third-grader Ra’ihau Eugenio got to crack an egg for the cake recipe

While Ra’ihau said he normally cracks eggs to make food like French toast or scrambled eggs, he said he was “pretty confident” in his class’ ability to win the pound cake competition, thanks to their reading and math expertise. (Spoiler: they did!)

“We already learned fractions and how to measure liquids, so I think that will be good because you have to have quite an exact measurement of the ingredients you need,” he said. “I think quite a few (classmates) are pretty decent at baking.”

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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