For your special Valentine, Istrouma High students are selling sweet-smelling candles the teens made themselves, all the while learning a lesson in dollars and scents.
More are coming, including Easter candles, and ones in Istrouma burgundy and gray. And perhaps candles in the colors for other schools.
The Baton Rouge public school wants to put its stamp on the local market for homemade — or school-made — candles.
“We’re going to take the city by storm,” promises teacher Claude Booker, a retired ExxonMobil process technician trainer who is now imparting his petrochemical manufacturing knowledge to students at this Baton Rouge high school.
The school candle business is Booker’s brainchild.
“This was not part of the retirement plan,” he said with a laugh.
Can't see video below? Click here.
For years while still at the energy giant, Booker volunteered at the high school. He said he was hurt when he learned that the historic high school had been closed and was happy to learn it reopened in 2017.
When he was hired last year to teach process technology, Istrouma High Principal Reginald Douglas urged Booker to find activities that would motivate the students.
Booker settled on candle-making. He didn’t let the fact he’d never made a candle before stop him. At ExxonMobil, they produced paraffin wax. Istrouma students, he thought, could take that wax and turn it into candles.
“The process that they use to make (wax) is kind of similar to the process we use (at Istrouma) to melt it,” Booker said. “Teaching kids about heat and pressure are some of the basic concepts of process technology.”
If you live or work near 3730 Winbourne Ave. in Baton Rouge and you think you’re hearing the pounding of drums, you probably are.
Room 116 in Building J is serving as the candle factory. Over the past month, the students made about 280 Valentine’s Day candles here, and Booker said the students have unfilled orders for about 100 more, which he hopes to wrap up next week.
The candle-making equipment on display ranges from special wax melters to donated bun warmers to small cylinders of PVC pipe, which are serving as molds. Bottles of liquid scent sit on one table. One bottle of vanilla scent is used in the white candles. While the other bottle, a scent labeled Love Spell, is used in the red candles; it smells like passion fruit.
Ebony Noah, coordinator of Istrouma's magnet program, prefers the sweet scent of the red candles.
“I love the smell, just being in that room,” Noah said.
After the rectangles of paraffin wax are melted — that takes at least 90 minutes — the molten mix is heated in a water bath to about 190 degrees. First color, then the scent is added, before the hot liquid is poured into the PVC pipe molds. The molds then are slowly cooled to room temperature in the bun warmer, and finally the wicks are installed.
Sophomore Kirby Manchester, 15, estimates he’s made nearly 100 of the candles. He remembers his first one, and his joy in its creation.
“I was looking at this, thinking, ‘I made this candle,’” Manchester recalled. “I thought the candle would came out messed up, but it came out good.”
Booker has enlisted the help of other teachers in the candle project. A home economics teacher plans to make aprons for student workers and help with selecting colors. The school’s agriculture teacher is planning to carve wooden placeholders for the candles.
Shirnell Jackson is playing a bigger role. She will have the students in her entrepreneurship class develop a business plan for the school candle enterprise. She's been conducting preliminary research to get ready. She said she was surprised to find that seven out of 10 households in the United States use candles.
“People don’t realize how big the candle business is,” Jackson said.
Istrouma’s candles vary in size, and initial pricing ranges from $3 to $5 per candle, though that may change. There are plans to set up an online store. For now, though, all sales are handled in person by calling the school’s main office at 225-636-2686 or visiting the school at its 3730 Winbourne Ave. campus during school hours.
Istrouma is holding a promotional event at 11 a.m. Thursday to showcase the new Valentine’s Day candles. And the school has been spreading the word to parents and alumni through social media.
For the student consumers, Mom appears to be the most likely recipient of a new candle, though Mom may end up paying for it.
“I got to go home and get some money from her,” Derrica Morris, 15, a ninth-grader, acknowledged.
When asked if she is thinking of buying another candle for a special someone, Morris blushes in embarrassment.
Booker said some adults customers are ordering the red and white candles, with more amorous intentions. He knows. He's one of them.
“Without a doubt,” he said with a big smile.