Eldon cookie program teaches life skills and is in the running for a sweet reward

Cooking, cleaning and washing and folding clothes are activities that many take for granted. For students in Elizabeth Clingman's Life Skills class at Eldon High School, those type of simple tasks are ones they practice daily.

"When they get into my class, we work strictly on getting them into something post-secondary. Most kids graduate high school and go to college. My kids, we are working on getting them out and living on their own," Clingman said. "We do cooking. We learn how to do laundry. We learn how to clean. We learn how to cut. We learn how to write. Little things that most people take for granted, we do them in here. Everything we do in here is getting them to the point where they can live by themselves and do things independently."

One prime example of teaching the students essential life skills is featured in what the students call the "Mustang Cookie Company." It all started five years ago in a different school building. Clingman's Life Skills class took it over and decided it was a great way to bring funds into the classroom. She never would have thought that it would grow into the bustling project it is today.

The cookie company teaches students how to bake, measure ingredients, communicate with others, explain themselves and count money.

"We just needed something to help them learn the little things," Clingman said.

In order to sell baked goods, it takes the class about a week and a half to prepare. Every Friday, the company meets to plan its next sell date, which usually happens every two weeks. Then they take suggestions for cookie type and vote on which to make. The following week, students make typed and hand-written flyers to advertise their product. Teachers in the district are notified via email that cookies will be sold that week. Then, the baking begins. After getting all the ingredients from either the cafeteria or local super market, students begin making anywhere from 18 to 23 dozen cookies. On the sell date, students package the cookies and deliver throughout the district. When delivering cookies, students must make change and thank the buyer for their support. Students also make thank you notes to give back to teachers for buying their baked goods.

"I learn life skills, also working and listening," freshman Xavier McJunkins said.

Another student, freshman Dannie Stevenson chimed in, "I like making money and buying t-shirts."

The Mustang Cookie Company is not new but has recently gotten more attention when two Eldon high school students chose the company to showcase in a video that they submitted in the United Commercial Travelers of America Gives Back Again contest. The video contest features disability programs and special education in schools across the nation. According to official contest rules, the videos must "explain how a donation will help your school intellectual disability program or special education teacher training program."

The video of the cookie company made it into the contest's top ten finalists. If Eldon wins, the classroom could receive $10,000.

"For other people to think my class is great, is huge," Clingman said. "I think just being recognized for us is enough. Just the fact that people are supporting us and are proud of what we are doing and the kids are proud of us for doing, that is enough for us."

The second place winner receives $5,000. As of Thursday, Feb. 13, the class was in third place overall.

Clingman and her students are already brainstorming on how they would use the reward. Students would love to have more bean bag chairs, yoga balls and books while Clingman would like to see a washer and dryer, iPads for the classroom, cookie company t-shirts and new kitchen items including mixers.

"We are competing with other schools with a youtube video," McJunkins said. "Go vote for us."

Cookies are not the only type of food the class learns how to make. Clingman cooks with her students weekly and teaches them how to make anything from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, grilled cheese to omelets.

The money raised from the current cookie sales goes toward buying ingredients and other supplies for students.

To vote for the Mustang Cookie Company, visit www.facebook.com/UCTinaction and click on the Gives Back Again icon. There one will see all ten video submissions, to vote for Eldon High School, click on the video then on the vote button.

Voting ends March 14.