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Akron 1st Graders win First Place – NYAITC MAC & CHEESE CHALLENGE

     Students in the first grade class of Mrs. Marybeth Mathews and Mrs. Michele Heiderman at Akron Elementary School have won first place in the Primary Division of the New York Agriculture in the Classroom (NYAITC) 2022 Mac & Cheese Challenge.  The winners of the organization’s first dairy innovation challenge will receive a cheese making kit and educational materials valued at over $150, as well as a monetary prize of $250 for their first place entry. 
     Nearly 200 educators across the state registered their students for the Mac and Cheese Challenge in four divisions:  Primary (Pre-K-2), Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8), and High School (9-12) to take on the innovative and entrepreneurial challenge.
     The students with their teachers were challenged to learn about the sector and the careers found within the agriculture industry.  They participated in two virtual field trips, one with an award-winning chef known for his macaroni and cheese, and one of a tour of a working dairy farm.  Both experiences gave the first graders a real-world view of life in the dairy industry.

     "In the planning stages, I suggested the idea of putting macaroni and cheese onto pizza crust. The students thought I was crazy!” said Mrs. Mathews.  “We used Mrs. Heiderman's homemade macaroni and cheese recipe along with my family's favorite homemade pizza dough. The result tasted amazing! The best part of the experience was seeing the students engaged in the whole process. We have some future chefs in our class!"

     The week before the cooking day, the students were taught about kitchen safety with various activities. They discussed good table manners and learned how to set a table to prepare for the special guests invited to be their taste testers. They read books about eating out, table manners and being polite, too!

     During the cooking session, the two teachers and their split of students from the class, worked from two kitchen areas.  Each task was listed in advance with student names so they were well prepared, the work was shared, and every student was able to take turns preparing the recipes, helping with clean up, and hosting guests.
     Mrs. Heiderman, a Special Education teacher in Mrs. Mathews’ classroom, was equally impressed with the deliciously fun and highly educational outcome.

     "When we first discussed participating in the challenge I wasn't sure how the students would handle the tasks at their young age, but their excitement was contagious and I put my concerns aside,” she said.  “When the big day arrived, all of the students did a great job taking turns and ultimately created a delicious Mac and Cheese Pizza. I am very proud of each of them."
     "We are incredibly proud of the teachers and students!” remarked Mr. Todd Esposito, Akron Elementary Principal.  “From the planning stage to the final result, there was commitment and excitement towards the project – and the Mac and Cheese Pizza was delicious!"    
     For more information about the Mac and Cheese Challenge, please go to  To view a presentation of Akron’s winning project, please visit