Sparhawk Pizza Company: Project-based learning in the Upper Elementary

by Lisa Hughes, Lower School Teacher

Sparhawk Pizza Company: Project-Based Learning in the Upper Elementary

By Lisa Hughes, Lower School Teacher

We Sparhawk parents know the real value of Pizza Fridays: it’s one day out of your busy week in which lunch is covered. My sympathies are with those whose children can’t or won’t eat pizza on Friday, and, as the Pizza Company faculty liaison at the Lower Campus, I sincerely wish we could order a grand buffet of options, both hot and cold, for students to enjoy. It’s just not possible.

But I digress...I’m here to talk about how the fourth and fifth graders know a different value in regards to Pizza Fridays - that it is hard work that must be accomplished with grace and care. And, since it’s been a tradition at Sparhawk for over 15 years, Pizza Friday is tradition to value as a right of passage in the upper elementary. It is something to take seriously!

So, when you or your child signs up for 2 slices of cheese on a Thursday morning, or when you are scrounging once again to put together a couple of bucks to stash in your child’s lunchbox (you certainly don’t need another IOU this week!), just know that a little piece of that tradition is continuing on with your consumerism. You are keeping a little tiny and important business afloat!

To help paint the picture, as it were, of the behind-the-scenes activity that goes on each Pizza Friday, here’s a quick rundown...remember, we teachers consider Pizza Friday “project-based learning”, and therefore it must include the following elements: Role-playing, Authentic assessments, Authentic audiences, Real-world expertise brought into the classroom, Student choice & Collaboration (among many other things)!

Here goes -

9:00 - The “Pizza Friday” song is sung in the Village Meeting. There’s nothing like a chant to drum up support from your customers. I do a little dance and everyone cheers. Good fun.

10:15 - The Fifth grade math class tallies the spreadsheet orders and calculates cost, including tip. The call to the restaurant must accommodate each and every student’s order in the number of pies requested (hopefully with extra slices, in case of students without a lunch)

12:15 - The pizza is delivered and money exchanges hand. The fourth and fifth grade classes trade off responsibilities - one month, a class is serving, the other is on clean-up duty. The next month it switches.

Student jobs include cashier, server, orderer and juice-maker. We need a crew just to serve the Woodsview population, and the rest handle the Farm building. Everyone gets their choice of job and is encouraged to try new jobs over the course of the year.

12:25 - The customers arrive, hungry, excited, noisy, throwing money at us. Believe or not, a lot of the hard work is in getting children to remember to grab their change! The order for each child is called out, the appropriate number of slices is put on the plate, complete with cloth napkin. Money is exchanged and assistance is given to the younger children who may struggle with carrying a cup of juice with a plate. No one needs their slices to hit the floor. The stress level is very high during the lunch rush, and the pizza employees really need to keep their cool under pressure. Focus is expected. The teachers monitor and critique the work ethic of the pizza employees during this time - anyone slacking off or fooling around may find themselves out of a job soon enough. Customer service is paramount, and there is no touching your hair or itching your nose!

1:00 - The customers head out to recess and the clean up crew arrives. IOUs are written out and taped to lockers. The floors are swept, cash box is returned to the office, the boxes are recycled and our reusable plates and cups are rinsed and head into the dishwasher. Paula Renda has the best clean up boot camp I have ever seen. No wonder - she is the oldest of six girls after all!

And this happens almost every Friday throughout the year. We also revisit the pizza options in the Amesbury area each fall, complete with cost comparison and blind taste test. As you can see, Pizza Friday is a whole piece of our upper elementary curriculum that stands on its own.

So thank you, again, if you are a dedicated customer to our little business. Each year, we make enough money  to feed our students week to week, take a trip to Canobie Lake in June, and use the remaining funds to purchase something new for the playground, be it dodge balls or climbing elements. Here’s to you, and to those hard-working Sparhawk students dedicated to keeping the Pizza Friday tradition alive for another year - Mangia!