• Buff City Soap - Carley Smoot
    Carley Smoot demonstrates the soap making process at Buff City Soap in Covington Wednesday morning as Challenge students from Austin Peay Elementary, Crestview Elementary and Covington Integrated Arts Academy look on.

The students’ eyes widened as Buff City Soap manager Kori Flanagan dumped a big bowl of mixture used to make bath bombs on the table.

They’d already gone through the ingredients, and the properties of each one, in this science experiment and now it was the fun part: time to scoop the mixture into molds and make one of the natural living company’s signature items.


“Narcissist is on this table, Island Nectar is on the other,” Flanagan said as Carley Smoot, another employee, helped her.

“We’ve been studying chemistry,” said Norma Kirby, one of the district’s Challenge teachers. “We’ve learned about the periodic table and then yesterday they learned about physical reaction vs. chemical reaction, what the difference is and what to look for.”

Challenge, which is operated under the special education department, is the name for the district’s gifted program. Students who qualify are taken out of class twice each week for instruction in higher-level science, technology, engineering and math instruction.

While chemistry’s concepts are comprehensively detailed in textbooks, a hands-on approach to learning often results in better retention and recall.

Covington is home to several industries – like Unilever and Charms, where ice cream and Blow Pops are manufactured for consumers all over the world – but field trips where students can see their lessons come to life in these factories are not always feasible or permitted.

Small businesses often provide a perfect venue for a collaboration with educators.

A trip to Buff City Soap to mold bath bombs and watch Smoot go through the processes of making soap – all while detailing how the components react to make the final product – shows students their lessons in action.

Now a multi-million dollar corporation, Buff City Soap itself began as an experiment.

Founders Brad Kellum, who graduated from Covington High School in 1988, and his longtime partner, Jennifer Ziemianin, a former emergency room nurse at Baptist-Tipton, had no experience when they began making soap in their Bartlett garage six years ago.

Now they have 26 locations across the country and four more franchises set to open soon. Covington’s location, which opened last year, supports schools and organizations through fundraisers in addition to field trips.

The Covington location’s owner, Charli Gorman, is herself a former educator, so she understands the benefits of partnering with the schools.

“It’s hands-on and that’s what we want to do,” said Kirby. “We want them to get their hands in it so they can see what we’re talking about. Plus, it’s local and we love that.”

Echo Day
Author: Echo Day

Echo Day is an award-winning journalist, photographer and designer. She is currently The Leader's managing editor.