Food for thought — kids sculpt cars, faces from bagel dough

"Impalas are tight," said 12-year-old Michael Uribe, sculpting a likeness of the Chevy classic out of blue and yellow dough.

For those not familiar with junior high argot, "tight," is the latest way of saying "awesome," and at James Lick Junior High School in San Francisco, having a so-called Dough Day four days before summer is a pretty tight way to spend a class period.

For about 15 sixth- and seventh-graders, last Thursday was not the time of year to concentrate on long division or to memorize state capitols. With that in mind, local bagel chain Holey Bagel scheduled its second Dough Day, a chance for students to express themselves through the medium of brightly colored bagel dough.

In a small classroom looking out onto Noe Street, bright orange plastic desks dotted the floor. Weathered National Geographics were piled in bookshelves against the walls, and a thin fog of blackboard dust was visible in the ray of sunlight shining through an open window.

When Melinda Loo, manager of the Holey Bagel store in Noe Valley, entered the classroom with huge plastic bags full of blue, green, orange, brown and yellow bagel dough, it looked like the day might not be so long.

"We're here to work with dough," she told the class. "Make images that represent the Noe Valley community — or whatever you guys like."

Teacher Susan Burke quipped, "Keep it clean. No phallic symbols or anything."

The students went right to work. While they may not have known a shmear from a shmendrick, the mostly Hispanic and African American students proved they had more creativity than cream cheese has fat calories. They were flipping the dough like pizza, sculpting cars, names, teacher's faces and even forming two-dimensional images out of the colored mush on their desks.

"I did this because it's my favorite thing to draw," said Yahminah Banks, 13, pointing to the apple tree, sun, blue clouds and blades of green grass plastered onto her desk top.

According to teacher Korina Escobar, the school has no art program, so teachers can only try to integrate art projects into other classes. Dough Day, she said, gives the students "an opportunity to use their creativity with colors."

James Lick kids are no strangers to bagels. This May, the school was officially adopted by Holey Bagel, which has sent employees to the school to tutor students, sponsored tours of their bagel kitchens and even made an appearance at a school assembly with the rag-tag Holey Bagel band, consisting of musically-inclined bagelry employees.

The junior high effort is part of Holey Bagel's new wave of tzedakah programs called "Breaducation." So far, the local company has sponsored an after-school organic garden project with the Berkeley Boosters and the West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation, organized a job fair for the homeless, put together a four-part discussion series on community involvement with the Media Alliance and expanded food drive donations.

Holey Bagel co-owner, Gary Goldstein, has watched the business expand to eight retail stores in 15 years. He says he hopes "Breaducation" will be a way to give back to the communities that have provide him with his bagel customers.

At first, Goldstein and co-owner Scott Kronenberg did mitzvot by handing out their New York-style boiled bagels to any non-profit groups that asked. Now, their philosophy seems to be, `give a man a bagel and he eats for a day, teach a man how to sculpt an Impala out of bagel dough, and he eats forever.'

Or something like that.

"We have been approached by so many organizations, and have given bagels to just about everybody, but we had no impact," said Goldstein. "Now, we are establishing long-term relationships with organizations and hopefully making a real difference."

Over the summer, the student meditations in flour, salt and water will be baked, shellacked and probably displayed at the nearby Noe Valley branch of the public library.

While Holey Bagel is making plans to work with the James Lick students next year, this year's crop just seemed happy for some down time with the dough, says Escobar.

"It's a nice way to come to an end with something fun."