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Middle School News & Stories

Project Learning Week: Hain Celestial Group
Posted 01/23/2015 08:34AM

What could be better than a Terra potato chip?

A ruby taro chip with spiced cumin? A yuca chip with wasabi? A parsnip chip with chili powder?

A group of 19 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders are exploring how products evolve from a good idea to the supermarket shelf during their three-day Project Learning Week experience at the Hain Celestial Group.

On Wednesday, they donned lab coats, hair nets, gloves, and goggles and learned how scientists experiment to make new flavors of vegetable chips and new fragrances for body lotion. They tried combinations of spices and vegetable chips; they tested fragrances in lotions. They thought about their sense of taste and smell in new ways. Does color affect flavor? Does smell affect taste?

The trip was one of more than 20 mini-courses offered by the Middle School this week. Students took part in a range of activities that involved nature trips, performing and visual arts, media, public speaking, design thinking, and explorations of contemporary topics such a feminism, immigration, and social service.

At Hain, the students learned about a company committed to "organic and natural, better-for-you products" and sustainable, environmentally-conscious business practices. Hain's brands, including Celestial Seasonings teas, Terra chips, Earth's Best baby foods, and Arrowhead Mills organic baking products, among many others, are sold at Fairway, Whole Foods, and other New York markets. One of the students noted: "They make a lot of the foods that I eat on a regular basis but I didn't know they were from Hain."

On Wednesday, the group met with scientists and chemists in research and development and learned how chemistry is used in the real world. They learned how food and personal-care products are designed according to the company's mission (only certain ingredients are permitted); how the cost and availability of ingredients affect product design; how scientists develop color and fragrances without using artificial ingredients; how consumer feedback is incorporated into the design process; how government regulations affect their business practices; and how teams of people collaborate to guarantee the success of products.

On Thursday, they planned to meet with the marketing department and with Irwin Simon, the company's founder and president and a Riverdale parent.

Learning about Hain by seeing and doing (and tasting, smelling, and touching) clearly captivated the students. "I was surprised by how much thought and work went into each product," a student said. The company's collaborative approach to product development also impressed them.  "I liked how supportive and interactive they were," said one. "I thought it was cool that there were a lot of different jobs that they could do," said another. 

Middle School Principal Milton Sipp, who accompanied the students, said the experience provided a rare behind-the-scenes view of how a successful business operates and how teamwork is important in the working world. He thanked Simon and the employees for their generous attention.  "The entire team at Hain was exceptional," he said  "It was an experience our students will never forget. It is the kind of learning that would be difficult to replicate in a traditional classroom setting, and one that embodies the spirit of of experiential learning in the Middle School this week."

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