Editor’s note: this is the first of two stories featuring the work being done in the Winners Circle Project at Candor High School. Next week’s story will feature a more in-depth look at Candor High School students’ efforts to build a real, drivable race car by the end of the spring semester.
On Oct. 5, a bright, sunny Saturday, a group of Candor High School Students joined forces at a rural site in Newfield to build a fully functioning wood-fire cob pizza oven—a working piece of equipment, built with their own hands from all natural materials. Cob is a Welsh word that means “lump of mud”. It is made up of clay, sand, straw and water.For many of the students, this was just one of many smaller projects they would embark on along their journey to build a much larger, more complex item: a race car they would get to see race at Watkins Glen in the spring, if everything goes according to plan.
The cob oven project was overseen by Matteo Lundgren, who owns his own Ithaca based company, Cob Therapy. “My business is really to connect students to nature through the art of natural building, and I do that by showing them that the forest—the landscape—has all the materials you need to build with it,” Lundgren explained. “It’s exciting, and you feel connected to the environment you live in, and the material is more alive to you. Natural building skills help people feel empowered that they can build; they don’t have to go to school 20 years to do this.”
Students can jump right in and start building with minimal prior training.
Several students said they will take away simple yet powerful lessons in work ethic, taught to them by Lundgren and applied that day as they literally got their hands dirty.
“Knowledge is nothing without execution,” said Morgan Bensley, 14, a freshman at Candor High School. “You have to do something. You can’t just preach about it. I’ll definitely remember that.”
“It’s always amazing for me, when I work in workshops, to see the potential in people realized because none of these students have been taught to work with this material or have what are traditionally defined as skills in this area prior to it,” said Lundgren, “So it’s cool that this way of building is quite intuitive, and once you get it you feel sort of welcome to experiment with it, and that’s the art of working with your hands versus a machine, which might require a lot of expertise.”
The oven was built entirely out of locally sourced materials. The clay soil was dug up right on site and screened to make sure it had enough clay content (which it did); the sand was locally sourced, as was the straw they used, which came from a farm about five miles away from the build site.
About a dozen students gave up their Saturday to work together to construct the oven. “It’s more of a learning experience than sitting around doing nothing, and I also came out of respect for Pius and the Winners Circle Project,” said Lucas Davis, 16, a junior at Newfield High School. “It’s changing the type of school programming we’ve been accustomed to for so long. It’s very progressive.”
The Winners Circle Project, implemented for the first time this year at Candor High School, is possible thanks to the generosity of the Dyson Foundation and a deeply committed team of administrators, educators and students who have the opportunity to compete with other schools in building a full-fledged, performance-level race car and watch it in action at Watkins Glen International.
At Candor High School, the project is overseen by Pius Kayiira, Winners Circle executive chairman, and Stephen Lindridge, Candor High School technology education and engineering teacher.
Building the oven is just one of many projects the students will undertake throughout the semester as they take on the big, ever-present project of building a functional race car. Kayiira said smaller builds like the oven are a great way for students to gain skills and accomplish something tangible as they slowly, meticulous make progress on the race car.
Lundgren said he hopes the oven project will spark creativity and desire to learn in the students.
“It’s cool to see people start to get invested,” he said. “They say, ‘we can build this. What else can I build using this stuff? So it’s cool.”
Lundgren said his philosophies closely align with those of The Winner Circle Project.
“After talking to Pius, it was a pretty easy partnership,” he said.
“Every kid should have the opportunity to do something positive, and at the same time it’s building kids’ self esteem as well,” Kayiira said. “They can say ‘wow, we built something natural with our hands’ before the technology comes in. Then we can talk about the technology, and it’s not as hard.”
“Building by hand builds natural camaraderie,” he said. “It’s a great team exercise. As they continue to build this race car, they build a union and friendship in a way, working really hard together to build this product they have at the end, which is pizza oven.”
“I learned teamwork and communication and a different perspective on the world,” said Carson Howe, 15, a junior at Candor High School, who added that using natural materials made him appreciative of all the natural world has to offer, as well as how important it is to protect natural resources.
One of Kayiira’s goals is to expose students in the Winner Circle’s Project to people who have a passion for their work. That’s why, when he found out Jamal Diboun, of Van Etten, was building a stick frame spec home all by himself on a rural piece of Newfield property, he was taken with Diboun’s drive to do something he had never done before with relatively little formal training. Diboun was happy to oblige Kayiira’s request to allow the students to build the oven on his land, not far from the house. “We connected on our ideals,” Diboun said, pausing for a moment in the middle of building the home’s frame, which he hopes to have complete, along with the roof, before winter.
Next spring, when the oven is completely cured and ready to use, the class will have a celebration at the build site.
“It will be a huge pizza party,” Lundgren said. “That’s always the most fun—to see the project you’ve help build come alive, and everybody feels alive when they see pizzas flying out of the oven.”