While many students hit the books after school, Avonelle Lindon is working away in the kitchen, perfecting her latest baking project.
Coconut nest cupcakes — complete with miniature "eggs" — and sunny-side-up meringues with lemon curd were on the seventh-grader's menu as she recently worked on spring recipes.
A few months ago, Avonelle launched Tic Tac Dough, an in-home, non-profit bakery, as part of the Academic Enrichment Program at Our Lady of Lourdes School in University City. In its inaugural year, the effort provides an outlet for enrichment studies for students in sixth through eighth grades who excel in areas of core curriculum.
"If you want to keep that high-achieving learner interested in learning, you need to feed their desire to know more in areas of interest to them," said principal Jeanne Gearon. "It's about learning for the sake of learning."
As part of their work, students establish an essential question and then work with program coordinator Sally McAlexander to seek the answer. Students create a component in which they share something with the community, and they write a research paper. A modified program is available for fifth-graders. The school also pairs students with parishioners who have real-world experience in the areas they're studying.
Students in the enrichment program use the school's academic lab, an open study lab for all sixth- through eighth-graders, to develop their projects. "It's teaching them how to engage with the teacher about their own learning," Gearon said. "We believe that is a valuable skill to take with them into high school. It builds the relationship between teachers and students but also helps them develop that self-advocacy skill."
The program is tailored to each student in terms of the areas of core curriculum in which they're excelling and how much time they should be investing. A student who excels in one subject may have a project that is narrower in scope in a particular subject area compared to a student who might be exceeding expectations in all areas of core curriculum.
"When they develop that essential question, it is theirs," McAlexander said. "It is what they want to learn about."
Avonelle meticulously keeps track of customers and their orders, needed supplies and researches new recipes to try. She started with decorated sugar cookies — one of her go-to recipes — and has expanded to more elaborate offerings, including Earl Grey truffle hearts, chocolate beet cake and chocolate stout cake. Avonelle's neighbors are her main customers, and the school's PTA hired her to make desserts for a staff lunch.
Avonelle recently shared her weekly schedule for meeting customer demands, kept organized in an impressive binder, with a hand-drawn logo and customer data, recipes and lists of purchased supplies. "I bake on Friday and deliver on Saturday," she said. "Each week has a different theme. Week one is retro, week two is seasonal, week three is international and week four is healthy or savory. I deliver the items later in the week. Most of them order every other week."
Avonelle has learned about communications and marketing, customer service and business planning. She also had a lesson about non-profit business via Mary Pat Gallagher, a Lourdes parishioner and executive director of Lolly's Place, a nonprofit that provides after-school tutoring. Avonelle has donated proceeds from the sales of her goodies — $359.45 so far — to Lolly's Place.
"I've learned about how they're making the world a better place, and how it's a lot of work," Avonelle said. "It's more from your heart than other jobs — and it's cool because you get to help other people."
Other students in the program have learned about publishing, criminal justice and forensics, the civil rights movement and jazz music, among other topics. In the fourth quarter of school, Avonelle is shifting her focus on developing a mobile app to provide helpful resources for American citizens who are impacted by the new immigration policies in the United States. She was inspired by a story of a Muslim family who were American citizens, yet were detained at the Canadian border. Avonelle has been working with her father, an IT specialist, to design the structure for the app, and she's currently developing the content. RELATED ARTICLE(S):