Posted by: Sienna Howarde in: Restaurant Quotes
Eldora, Ia. – A hair net is the last thing some of these guys would wear.But there they were, teenagers from some of Iowa’s meanest streets, looking comfortable in their tattooed skin, properly fitted hair nets and all.It’s early afternoon inside the bakery at the boys State Training School. The faint aroma of whole wheat bread, made earlier in the morning, is still lingering. A woman and six young males are scurrying around, chit-chatting as they move through the task of slicing and wrapping bread.
A full-size, commercial grade bakery, this place provides the backdrop for the school’s bakery careers class – the institution’s most sought-after vocational training program.”It is surprising to a lot of people,” school superintendent Mark Day said of the student interest in baking. “You’ve got drug sellers and gang members coming in here, and they want to make biscuits.”Breadsticks is actually what TaMarco Pope, 17, of Des Moines, wants to make.
“They’re my favorite,” he said as he flicked a few specks of flour dust from his shirt.Pope and the other students in the program had other training options. The school offers welding, carpentry, small engine, auto mechanic, landscaping and computer arts programs, Day said.Students read course descriptions, then choose their preferences. Bakery careers is almost always at its eight-to-ten slot capacity, the superintendent said.The interest in baking at the school has long existed, Day said, explaining that many would think that young males would more naturally gravitate to careers like welding, carpentry or automotive repair.
Some students know that some of the guys they ran with might look down on spending the better part of the day baking biscuits, breads, cookies and cakes.But as Pope put it, “To me, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks of this. It really is more about what I need to do and what I like to do.”Coming to the bakery every day gives him shelter.”I come here and can get away from everything else that is going on in my life,” Pope said.In a separate interview, Chris Puccio, 17, of Dubuque, said, “This has come to be something I look forward to.”
Connie Veld, 48, of Union, is the teacher. A certified bakery instructor, who started working as a 16-year old at her local Hy-Vee, Veld remembers wondering, “Gees, what did I sign up for here,” when she left her grocery store job to teach juvenile delinquent males.Today, more than 14 years later, she says the experience has been more satisfying than she anticipated.”I really had no clue what to expect,” Veld said, explaining that since she arrived she’s only had two relatively minor dust-ups with students.
One reason for the exemplary behavior, she believes, is that the students are busy from the moment they walk in the door.”And I think it gives them a great sense of satisfaction knowing that they come in at the beginning of the day with nothing and by the time they leave, they will have made all these things,” Veld said.”When they come to me I just give it to them straight, ‘if you’re not going to try to do everything the right way, you can leave right now.’ “
If they stay in the class long enough, Veld said, “they would have the knowledge to work in any grocery store bakery or any small town bakery.”No one keeps track of how many students move on to work in bakeries, but over the years Veld has had contact with “a fair number of kids” who have landed bakery jobs, she said.Most of the items the students bake in class go to feed the 155 students at the school. Almost nothing that comes out of the bakery is ever going to be featured on TV.
“We keep things pretty basic,” Veld said. “We don’t get into a lot of that foo-foo stuff.”That said, the school does get requests from businesses and residents in the area for cakes and cookies, she said, estimating the bakery fills about 200 special orders in a year.The productivity might surprise some outsiders, but Superintendent Day prefers to see it as fulfillment of the school’s mission.”This place is a testimony to a training school at its best,” he said, standing in the bakery. ” We take some of the toughest kids, put them in a challenging environment, and then watch them excel.”
Hair nets and all.