INDIAN TRAIL – It was a holiday wonderland earlier this week at Sun Valley High School, as a handful of colorful and completely edible gingerbread houses adorned the bookshelves of the school’s media center.
The sweet treat creations were part of the school’s first-ever gingerbread house competition, headed up by art teacher Tiffany Medford. During her time at Sun Valley Middle, Medford organized the contest for eight consecutive years. Now in her first year at the high school, she brought the competition with her.
“A lot of the kids have already participated in it and were familiar with the contest, and I was excited to see a greater level of creativity and ability,” she said. “This has been a tradition for them through the years, so we’re just continuing that throughout the high school.”
The contest uses the same guidelines as the Grove Park Inn’s National Gingerbread Contest. At least 75 percent of the house had to be constructed using gingerbread or graham crackers. The gingerbread houses had to have some type of Christmas theme and, with the exception of the base, every part of the house had to be edible.
“Everything, you have to be able to pick up and put in mouth,” Medford said. “It has to be edible.”
Students could purchase a gingerbread kit for $15, or they could build their own house from scratch. They also were allowed to work in teams of two.
Medford received 21 entries – all teams of two – for the contest. Students used everything from fondant and jellybeans to almonds and pretzel sticks to decorate their houses.
The gingerbread houses were delivered to the media center by 8 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 10. Later that day, two outside judges visited the media center to examine the houses and pick their favorites.
Cash prizes were given to three contest winners: $70 for first place, $35 for second place and $17.50 for third place. The school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Organization provided the prize money.
The school announced the contest winners on Tuesday, Dec. 11. In the student category, Kayla Iannetto and Cheyanne Helms won first place, Nadya Murdasova and Anna Clark nabbed second place and Samantha Gulickson and Isabella Garcia came in third.
Second-place winner Nadya Murdasova, a 16-year-old junior, purchased a gingerbread house kit and used candy and her own glaze to create a house with a pink castle theme. As an art student, she enjoys doing projects like these.
“It was really fun to do this,” Nadya said. “I like doing artistic projects and the design of it.”
For first-place winner Kayla Iannetto, a 15-year-old sophomore, the project was a chance to work with her best friend. They opted to do a homemade gingerbread house with a “Grinch” theme, using Rice Krispies and fondant.
“I had a lot of fun making it, because me and my best friend got to spend a lot of time together doing it,” said Kayla, who also won the contest in eighth grade. “We spent like eight hours making it.”
Kayla said she plans to use the prize money to buy Christmas presents.
Only one house was submitted in the teacher category – a model of Sun Valley High School using graham crackers, created by teachers Michelle VanGaasbeck and Angie Weed. All contest entries remained on display through Thursday, Dec. 13.
Medford, who plans to host the competition annually at the high school, said she enjoys the contest not just because it’s an art-related project, but also because it’s extended to the entire school and gives many students a chance to shine.
“I think it’s so important for them to have other avenues to express their creativity,” she said. “It also brings Christmas cheer to the media center. People love the smells whenever they walk into the media center.”
She added, “Some of the students who participate are not art students, so it’s opened up school-wide; it’s not exclusive. There are a lot of kids that are artistic, but their schedule doesn’t always allow for them to take art classes, so this gives them other opportunities as well.”