Runaway gingerbread men ‘keep fun’ at Mulick Park

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The hallways of Grand Rapids’ Mulick Park Elementary School are relatively calm and quiet every day — except one.

That day came Thursday with kindergarten teacher Terri Vulpetti’s beloved classroom tradition: the gingerbread run.

“It’s always screaming and running and I always get a little nervous, but it usually works out pretty well,” she said.

Vulpetti has been teaching some of the youngest students in the school system for 33 years. She’s spent a quarter of a century specifically molding minds at Mulick Park.

“I love learning and I love to watch the little minds grab onto things and it’s just the best,” she said.

That includes a weeklong lesson focused on gingerbread men – reading several gingerbread books and letting her class craft cookies of their own.

But over the decades, Vulpetti has had a lot of gingerbread men escape from the school oven.

“When I open the oven, they’re just shocked that they’re gone,” Vulpetti says of her students.

From there, the mad dash begins.

“Sometimes they run back to the classroom crying. We’ve had kids think they see a fox because their imaginations just run wild,” said Vulpetti.

The trail of crumbs leads the kids to the school secretary and several classrooms before they end up in the principal’s office. But it’s not punishment that awaits them.

“I looked around and I looked around and guess what I saw? I found some little gingerbread cookies,” Mulick Park Principal Thomas Allen Standifer II tells the children this time.

Relief washes over their faces and cheers erupt. Some students stop to chastise the cookies en route to their classroom, where they will finally decorate and eat the treats.

Vulpetti says the tradition started simple and has since taken on a life of its own.

“The kids in the school participate, bigger kids help the little kids and it’s quite a production now. So it’s kind of grown into a great big thing here,” she said.

School staff play their part to keep the intrigue alive.

“We’ve had fifth graders… they will come back and say I still remember doing the cookie (run). Some of them obviously know, but others are still—one asked me the other day, how did it get out of the oven? And they just still don’t quite get it,” said Vulpetti.

Mulick Park’s principal says in a world of more standardized testing and higher academic demands, it’s great to get back to basic fun.

“The kindergarteners, when they did the gingerbread run, man that’s so exciting for me because you see the true joy. You see the true joy in these children and it makes you look back to yourself like, ‘Where did we lose that type of joy from?’ I’m not losing my joy — I’m regaining mine. That’s why I’m an elementary principal,” Standifer said.

Vulpetti has a lesson for adults, too.

“To the young teachers out there that might be intimidated to try fun things, keep fun. Keep fun in your lesson plans because you need to be fun,” she said.