“Don’t touch your eyes!” warns Stacy Flagg for the umpteenth time as she passes out medical gloves and jalapeños to her combined second/third grade class at Chugiak Elementary.
The room is filled with the noise of 26 inexperienced bakers. Flagg circulates, giving instructions, assigning jobs, answering questions. She steps over a dirty spot on the carpet.
“We’ve got a lot of flour on the floor. It happens,” Flagg says.
She’s wrapped in a birdhouse patterned apron that is already coated in something sticky. She pushes the pale blonde bangs from her eyes and keeps moving.
This creative chaos happens every year in Flagg’s class. Her students just finished reading “Jalapeño Bagels” by Natasha Wing. In the story, a young boy named Pablo is deciding what to make for International Day. His mother is Hispanic and his father is Jewish. Pablo decides to bake jalapeño bagels. He tells his parents, “Because they are a mixture of both of you.”
Flagg, 55, has been a teacher for 16 years. This is one of her favorite lessons.
“I love that blending of cultures,” she says.
Because Flagg firmly believes that “kids learn best by doing,” her kids will be spending the day making their own jalapeño bagels.
“It’s important to get their hands in things as often as you can,” Flagg explains. This lesson will require measuring, reading a recipe, following directions – and patience. (The bagels will need time to rise.)
Flagg notes, “It’s really hard to do these activities when you have this many kids.”
An intense round of kneading and rolling is followed by pinching, stretching and shaping. One girl sneaks bites of dough when she thinks no one is looking.
She holds her uncooked bagel out to the camera.
“It’s perfect!” she says proudly.
When it’s time for a break, Flagg sits in a chair and the class circles around her feet. After a brief history of bagels, they discuss what culture means. The children raise their hands and offer up suggestions: country of origin, food, religion, clothes, language, holidays, color of skin. Flagg re-reads “Jalapeño Bagels” to the mostly attentive crowd.
When the story ends, it’s time for the hard part. Parent volunteers help small groups of students drop their bagels carefully into boiling water for 30 seconds. The bagels are fished out, then baked for 15 minutes.
The finished products comes out of the oven in a variety of shapes, most of them circular. Some are thick, some are thin — and the colors run a wide range.
“Because everyone is different,” says second grader Tempest Borowski.
Students help arrange a bagel bar by their teacher’s desk. It includes loxs, cream cheeses, and fruit. They eagerly line up to taste their hard work.
“I hope they learn to try something new,” Flagg says. “This is something they’ll remember.”
Author’s note: Stacy Flagg is my son’s second grade teacher. She grew up on Whidbey Island, WA. She came to Alaska in 2002 with the intention of staying for three years. When she’s not volunteering her time tutoring students before and after school, she kayaks, bikes and is on the board of directors at the Eagle River Nature Center.