Franklin Tech students top off school year with pizza project

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 06-23-2023 12:55 PM

TURNERS FALLS — End-of-year pizza parties are not an uncommon reward for hard-working students. It’s not often, though, that the pizza is prepared by the students and cooked in an oven they made themselves.

This is how sophomores in Matt Gancz’s physics class celebrated on Wednesday in the Franklin County Technical School’s north courtyard. According to Gancz, the brick pizza oven was constructed over the course of two schooldays last week as part of a project he’s assigned annually since 2019. Each year, the oven, held together by mortar made from red art clay mixed with sand, is disassembled after use so that the incoming class can experience the process for themselves.

“When we can add more stuff like this,” he said, “it keeps the kids engaged.”

Aside from being fun and rewarding for his students, Gancz reasoned that the project teaches an excellent lesson about thermal energy. Although the teacher has smoothed out the construction process to be “modular” and efficient over the past few years, students were still faced with trial and error, having to combat variables that impacted energy storage via mathematical calculations.

“Once they figured out how much energy it would take [to cook pizza], they did a little research to find out how much energy was available in wood,” Gancz explained. “They calculated how much wood they would need in order to fire up the oven to get it to cooking temperatures, which was cool.”

“You’re basically looking for that deck to get to 700 degrees,” added culinary instructor Benjamin Pike. “You’re looking at an environment that can hold and cook the amount that you need it to do.”

Students in the culinary arts program have also learned from the project, Pike noted. These students tested the oven last week to confirm that it was operable.

“This is integration and collaboration between academics and vocational instruction,” he expressed. “The main purpose is for our kiddos to be able to at least fend for themselves, to eat for themselves, to know one of the most iconic dishes: pizza. Everyone eats pizza.”

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Pike added that making pizza is not just a means of filling one’s stomach, but filling one’s heart. A brick oven, he said, has traditionally been a vessel for togetherness and appreciation of one another.

“With a pizza oven, it just brings people together,” he said. “It’s like the back of a pickup truck and everyone just hanging out. Or it’s like a dinner table, the way it should be, where everybody goes to eat, talk, communicate, fill the void and have something nourishing to share.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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