Gingerbread mansions take shape at Eshleman

Two area nursing homes will be getting one-of-a-kind Christmas decorations this year, thanks to the creativity and hard work of Eshleman Elementary School students and families.

Fifth-graders in teacher John Matusek’s class designed, built and decorated elaborate “gingerbread” mansions Dec. 12 out of graham crackers, icing, pretzels, ice cream cones and more than a dozen different types of candy. The colorful, edible creations will adorn the lobbies of Oak Leaf Manor facilities in Millersville and Landisville throughout the holidays.

Six groups of students designed their projects and created written plans before inviting their parents and grandparents to class to help with the construction.

The work crews went through nearly 50 pounds of icing, dozens of boxes of graham crackers, bottles of food coloring and countless bags of peppermints, licorice, Sour Patch Kids, M&Ms, marshmallows, candy canes, pretzels, coconut flakes and chocolate bars to create their mansions. The finished projects included a Disney cruise ship, a Hawaiian island house and an entire village.

The teams enjoyed bringing their creations to life, but it wasn’t just for fun. The main goal of the exercise is to teach students the value of cooperation and collaboration, said Matusek, who began teaching the holiday project 23 years ago.

“If students don’t work well together, the project will not work,” he said.

“It’s also a great way to show how the skills we use in school really are used in the real world.  We do a ton of math – specifically multiplying and dividing – to distribute the supplies. And since this is a challenging project, it teaches the kids how to problem solve and compromise.”

The mansions, mounted on stiff wooden boards, will be delivered to Oak Leaf Manor by next week, and Eshleman students plan to visit the homes after the holidays to see their work on display and interact with residents.

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