In between sneaking bites of colored sugar sprinkles, a focused group of 3rd-5th grade students with faces covered in bright green icing spent weeks in November exercising a willingness to compromise, working through challenges as a team, and demonstrating an impressive use of fine motor skills.
It wasn’t a home economics class or even a field trip to the local bakery. It was Alexis Burnette’s Exceptional Children’s class at Glenn C. Marlow Elementary School on a mission to create an award-winning entry for the 29th Annual Omni Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition.™ The judging took place Nov. 22, and the month-long display of all entries kicked off this week and continues through January.
The students’ hard work paid off, as the group’s entry – a large green locomotive train with popcorn steam billowing from its chimney – placed in the Top 10 team entry in their age division.
“This is such a big deal for them,” Burnette said. “They work really hard on it and they get so pumped for the field trip to see their entry.”
Burnette and her students are no strangers to this nationally renowned gingerbread endeavor; Burnette’s EC classes in 2017 and 2018 also placed in the Top 10 in the Youth division. Glenn C. Marlow didn’t enter the competition in 2020, when it was held virtually due to the COVID pandemic
Burnette always gets excited about the annual gingerbread project too, which was evident this month in class as she weaved in and around each student’s desk, watching them patiently and painstakingly decorate the sugar cone “spruce” trees that surrounded the holiday train.
“Oh, wow, this tree smells good,” said 8-year-old Abraham B., as he leaned in close to take a whiff of his confectionary creation.
At the time, how the students fared in the competition didn’t seem nearly as important to them as the opportunity to see their creation on display. Excitement swelled in their voices as Burnette reminded them of their upcoming Dec. 1st field trip to the National Gingerbread House Competition.
“Oh yeah, I sat in that sled with the big red ribbon,” said 10-year-old Eliana M., remembering the large sled that adorns the lobby of the Grove Park Inn during the holidays.
“Of course, I always want them to win because they work so hard,” Burnette said. “But they are just beyond excited to go there soon and see it unveiled.”
Along with the sweet, sticky mess that the project inevitably produces, Burnette’s annual gingerbread project teaches a list of essential lessons and skills for her students.
“They learn patience with themselves and with each other. They see a piece of the project break and they work through how to repair it. They learn creativity and they experience the pride of a group effort,” she said. “And they may just learn a new skill or two in the process that will help land them a job one day.”
The National Gingerbread House Competition began in 1992 with a small group of gingerbread houses built by community members as a way to celebrate the holiday season. Two decades later, it is one of the nation’s most celebrated and competitive holiday events.
The judges represent nationally renowned food, arts, and media professionals, and the level of competition has attracted the highest quality of design, artistry, and pastry expertise. It garners media coverage from NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, the Travel Channel, and the Food Network.
From Dec. 1- 12, one winner per day will be announced during “The 12 Days of Gingerbread,” via the Grove Park Inn’s social media, with the Grand Prize Winner revealed on Dec. 12. The gingerbread entries will be on display through Jan. 2, 2022.