Smiling With Hope Bakery: How Pizza-Making Transformed This High School Special Needs Program
Whether you read Slice or Serious Eats in general, you're familiar with that category of OMG, Food That Changed My Life. For most of us, it's exaggeration, a figure of speech. But for the students in Walter Gloshinski's special needs class at Newark High School, pizza is literally helping shape them as they shape it.
Gloshinski's students, who help staff the school's Smiling with Hope Bakery, are cognitively delayed, with their academic skills plateaued between 1st- and 4th-grade levels. "They don't think abstractly," Gloshinski says, "thus learning about life from books doesn't transfer to the real world."
They learn real-world skills instead as they bake pizza, cookies, bagels, and dog biscuits in their commercial-grade kitchen. Math, for instance, is about time, money, and measurement—all as integral to a bakery as flour and yeast. Their language arts instruction comes from reading recipes, completing out deposit slips, making shopping lists, filling out job applications, and following checklists for clean-up, among other things. Navigating the city on a food delivery truck becomes their geography class.
Smiling with Hope Bakery doesn't advertise, doesn't deliver, doesn't have its own phone. It has a limited menu—18" cheese or pepperoni pies only (in addition to other baked goods). It's only open during school hours, and customers have to call a day in advance to place orders. But none of that has stopped it from developing a loyal and growing following among locals and New York-area transplants.
The pizza they bake is decidedly New York-style, which is what Gloshinski, a native of Belville, New Jersey, grew up eating.
"We use Parmigianino-Reggiano DOP, Romano Pecorino DOP, shred our low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella/provolone, use imported Italian oregano and fresh garlic in the sauce, fresh organic basil for topping, which is grown by the science class at Granville High School in a year-round greenhouse, and cold-ferment our dough two to five days. Our pies are hand-tossed and baked directly on the oven stones. It's a pie that just doesn't exist out here this way."
Gloshinski, who has been teaching special needs kids for more than 16 years, has re-created in Newark, Ohio, the pizzeria/bakery model he first came up with in California, he says, where he earned his master's degree in special education. Prior to that, Gloshinski taught special needs kids in Texas, and before that he made his living for 20 years as a musician playing a genre of blues-based music he calls Spontobeat—"I spontaneously make up my words and music each time I play or record. Nothing is ever repeated or preconceived, and it has been the root for how I live life."
That's basically how he found himself in Ohio. California was getting too expensive, he says, and "a friend told me about central Ohio. It was affordable and closer to my family, so we sold our house, boarded our 40-foot bus, and drove to Ohio. We didn't have any job leads, no family or friends, and no idea of what would happen—just another adventure based on one of my visions."
In Newark, Ohio, Gloshinski talked with the director of special education and presented his teaching method. She shared his vision and hired him. He built the first version the bakery in an old home ec. classroom, but Smiling with Hope got an upgrade to a purpose-built commercial kitchen when a new school building was built two years later. The new digs, though, didn't insulate Smiling with Hope from the realities of the outside world.
"We have no funding, and have to earn our keep, so to speak," Gloshinski says. "The district pays utilities and provides us with our space. We have to pay for everything else needed to sustain a working business. This is a great thing because it is another learning tool for surviving in the real world."
Gloshinski originally wanted to operate Smiling with Hope as a retail bakery and pizzeria, but the numbers didn't add up, he says, and so he went out and got a number of large wholesale contracts—cookies that are sold in two local public-school cafeterias, bagels sold in another school cafeteria and at Denison University in Granville. These provide steady revenue for the bakery, he says, and, crucially, enough work to keep the students busy all day.
And how has this work shaped the student bakers?
"Historically, students at the cognitive levels I teach have not worked in unsupported, competitive jobs while in high school. We are in our second year of the bakery, and three of my students are working [in part-time jobs outside the school]."
To sample their wares, call Newark High School at 740-670-7400 and ask for Smiling with Hope Bakery. As noted above, make sure to call a day ahead to place your order. Here's the menu.