The annual discovery of the gingerbread men is fast becoming a tradition for Englewood Elementary School’s kindergarten students, thanks to the combined efforts of principal Mark Grossenbacher, school staff, and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
Parents like North Port resident Alicia Playter and Englewood resident Dori Mann credit the search with allowing their children to be engaged in their school, community and law enforcement. Wednesday morning, the students were rewarded for their efforts with a special visit from the SCSO SWAT team.
“I think it’s extremely exciting,” Playter said. “My daughter’s (Lily) been very concerned about the gingerbread men since they went missing. We drive by fields and she’s like, ‘Are they in there?’ She’s been sad at times, because she’s felt bad like they’re out at night homeless.”
Grossenbacher reported the gingerbread men were reported missing Friday, asking students, parents and teachers to help with the search.
“They walk around the school to find clues,” Playter said.
This is Mann’s second time participating in the event, as her two children attend the school.
“My son (Adam) has been searching everywhere,” Mann said. “He’s excited. He said if the cops catch them, they’ll be in jail and bring them to school. He was wondering if he can (pry) open the bars. That was funny.”
Liz Cole, who’s been teaching at the school since 1989, said parents volunteer to help the kids throughout the process, starting with helping to make the gingerbread.
“(Students) got to squish down the candy cookie dough together and they added their little touches,” Mann said. “Our class made an alien gingerbread man with licorice horns. All the classes are so different. There are a lot of licorice bow ties and those little (chocolate) kisses for feet. They have more candy in one than cookie dough. They love it.”
Cole said each day the students explored a different area of the school in their search.
“It’s really an introduction where things are for the kindergartners like the clinic, the office, art and music rooms,” she said. “We usually try to only go to one place per day.
“We have sequencing activities along with art and craft projects. The program has evolved over the years, adding different projects every year.”
Cole said one of the gingerbread men was half-female this year.
“One half had long hair, the other short hair,” she said. “They wanted to be sure that both genders were represented.”
Last year, SCSO flew a helicopter to school grounds to deliver the fugitive sweets. This year, deputies Brad Pope and Dan Smith delivered the goods in their SWAT vehicle.
“We’re always thinking of something new, and this provides an opportunity for those in the community to see law enforcement in a positive light,” said Deputy DeWayne Hill, director of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Activities League. “My job is to work with youth across the county. We try to take advantage of as many opportunities that come up.”
Hill said coordinating events depends on available volunteers. The League is a nonprofit wing of SCSO aimed at addressing community needs.
“We’re always looking for volunteers,” Hill said.
For more information, visit sarasotaPAL.org or call 941-474-3118.