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South Jordan Journal

Sweet success for one sixth grader

Sep 11, 2023 12:38PM ● By Julie Slama

Last spring, AAI student Sienna Anderson and her classmates made her original candy bar recipe at the Aggie Chocolate Factory. (Mark Sanderson/AAI)

Learning might be a bit sweeter at American Academy of Innovation this year, thanks to a sixth-grade assignment.

Last year, sixth-grade language arts teacher Mark Sanderson turned the story of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” into reality. 

After reading and discussing the novel, 30 students visited Utah State University’s chocolate factory before dreaming up their own chocolate bars, complete with the name, slogan and ingredients, and presented those to their class. Each class voted for their favorites and then the student body voted for the top one. Those finalists got the “golden ticket” to step into USU’s factory to actually create the winning chocolate bar.

“This is exposing kids to something that’s fun, engaging and gets them to be creative outside the school,” Sanderson said. “It also invites them to think about possible careers. Ultimately, it’s helping them realize that as sixth graders, ‘I can have an impact on the world. I don’t have to wait until I’m a college graduate.’”

This year’s top chocolatier is Sienna Anderson. The school purchased 500 of her “Sunset Sweets” for students.

“My slogan was ‘Sweet and Salty Nights’ because it went with the name of my chocolate bar,” she said. “My ingredients include Reese’s Pieces, and those colors remind me of a sunset, that’s why I named it that. I love sunsets and I used a bunch of my favorite snacks for the ingredients — potato chips and the pretzels that are salty and Reese’s Pieces that are sweet. Lots of people didn’t like the idea of potato chips and chocolate. They doubted it, but when they tried it, they thought it was really good.”

Sienna liked the assignment from the start.

“‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is a really good book. I’ve seen the movie, but this was the first time I read it,” she said. “When everyone went to the Aggie Chocolate Factory, we looked at what they were doing behind the glass. We got to learn how they make their chocolate and where they get their ingredients from. I learned a lot about what cacao beans are and how you get the flavor of chocolate.”

Sanderson said it was a good opportunity for all the students to learn more about the process and to sample the chocolate made there.

“They could tell the difference. Aggie chocolate is a little more earthy flavor and a creamier texture. USU is the only bean to bar chocolate factory on a college campus. Most of the major chocolate makers don’t make their own chocolate. Here they make chocolates from beans from several areas so each chocolate tastes differently because they’re using beans from different areas,” he said. 

Sanderson also liked how they not only gained an understanding of chocolate, but the idea that they could study it in college. 

“They learned if you like chocolate, you can do this in college. They got a bit of a career perspective with chocolate specifically, but learned they could study food sciences. The director of the factory uses chocolate to teach a chemistry course, so who wouldn’t want to go to college?” he said. 

After they returned to AAI, Sanderson instructed them to create their own chocolate bar along with a label. They also made a PowerPoint slideshow to present to their class.

“I felt I had a pretty good idea,” Sienna said. “For me, the hard part was the presentation because I get anxious and stressed when I’m presenting in front of people. Once I got past that, it was fun.”

After class presentations, they voted for the three chocolate bars they liked best. The concepts with the most votes were entered into the finals.

“We made posters for our chocolate bars and those were put in the cafeteria. Then the whole school voted; the poll didn’t say the students’ names, just the chocolate and ingredients,” Sienna said. “I was really excited because my friend, Jaelyn Jones, also was a finalist. We were supporting each other, and we said that even if one of us was a finalist and the other wasn’t, we’d still be really close friends. When the vote was in, they had us stand in front of our posters and announced it. I was nervous, but excited to see who’d win. When my name was announced, I was in shock, frozen for a second. I realized that everybody was screaming and cheering for me. I had beat Jaelyn by five votes, so she was second overall. It was fun celebrating together.”

At 10 a.m., Feb. 1 – the same time and day Charlie went to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory — Sienna, the other five finalists and families were invited to USU’s chocolate factory. They learned more in-depth about USU’s chocolate process. 

“We put on hair nets and paper scrubs over our shoes and went behind the glass where we saw the roasting and de-shelling of the cacao beans. They already had my chocolate premade with the potato chips mixed in, so we got to do the next step of filling the mold with the chocolate and put it in this machine that vibrated the bubbles out. Then, we put the toppings on — a pretzel and a tiny scoop of Reese’s Pieces — and set them in the fridge for 30 minutes. We wrapped them and that had to be done fast because they melt in your hand. Then, we put the label and the sticker on to take home,” Sienna said.

“It tasted how I imagined it would taste, both sweet and salty — and crunchy, which I love,” she said.

This is the second time Sanderson has given this assignment. Previously, he taught at Butler Middle School where the “Campfire Crunch” won.

“Both years, the winner is not the one that is the most outside the box, but oddly enough, the one that appeals to the most people,” he said. “Both years, several bars could have won. There were a lot of good ideas.”

Sanderson said he can foresee expanding the assignment so students could learn how to make it an entrepreneurial business and could market their products. He also would like to have the project include other schools to increase the competition.

Sienna loved the assignment.

“I loved giving it to my family and my friends because they all were happy for me when they learned I had won,” she said. “I liked proving my idea was a good one when people doubted my ingredients.” λ