Photo: Kate and Eric collect maple sap.

At North Country School, learning is often guided by the changing seasons. Living on a mountain farm offers countless opportunities to observe and participate in the world around us, and to understand the work involved in bringing food to our plates. Last week, as students returned from spring break, we began one of the most anticipated times in our Adirondack farming season: maple sugaring.

During March and April, the daytime temperatures climb above freezing but the nights remain cold, prompting sap to move through the maple trees in our sugarbush. On these days when the sap is flowing, we work together to collect full buckets in the morning before gathering in the Sugarhouse in the afternoon and evening to boil the collected sap into syrup. While the season is a short one, there are plenty of opportunities to lend a hand and learn more about the process during out-times, Homenight activities, and academic lessons. It’s a special time on our campus, and one we reflect back on each time we drizzle sweet maple syrup on our pancakes and waffles throughout the rest of the year.


Top: Lilly, Dexter, and Sophie work on the “adaptation” Town Meeting exercise. Middle 1: Garth’s table works on the “adaptation” Town Meeting exercise. Middle 2: Abigail writes without her thumb during a biology lab. Bottom: Lily ties her shoes without her thumbs during a biology lab.

The theme of adaptation took center stage this week, both during an all-community Town Meeting as well as in a 9th-grade biology lab activity. During a Town Meeting organized by our Equity and Inclusion Committee, students and teachers gathered together in the Dining Room for a discussion about the many different ways people learn and achieve goals by adapting their own unique strengths and skills. Each group was given the same list of goals to accomplish together, which included making up an original song, creating and defining new words, and solving math problems. The community then gathered back together to discuss the methods they used to complete the tasks, highlighting the creative results that came from using different collaborative strategies.

Meanwhile, students in Colin’s 9th-grade biology class continued their unit on evolutionary biology with a lab examining the role thumbs have played in human development and in the ability to use tools. The class discussed the adaptation of opposable thumbs before moving through several exercises that highlighted their benefits. Students wrote their names, flipped through books, and tied their shoes, both with and without use of their thumbs, before analyzing their ability to complete these everyday activities in both scenarios. Top: Patrick and Garden Manager Kim calibrate the refractometer before measuring sap sugar content. Middle: Nadya looks through the refractometer. Bottom: The refractometer showing maple sap with 2% sugar content.

As part of their unit on proportional relationships and data collection, our 7th-grade math students visited the maple sugarbush this week to gain a deeper understanding of sap sugar content and maple tree productivity. With the aid of a refractometer, which uses light to measure the sugar content in liquid, the class collected information about the sap flowing through a few of the maple trees we’ve tapped this season. They then used this information, along with their existing knowledge about sugar content in finished maple syrup and number of campus trees tapped, to calculate theoretical yields of maple syrup as our season progresses.


Top: Roan weaves in fiber arts class. Middle 1: Remi winds wool from NCS sheep using a yarn swift. Middle 2: Heqing and Matt paint a birdhouse in woodshop class. Middle 3: Carter and Andrew paint a birdhouse in woodshop class. Bottom: Mateo handbuilds in ceramics class.

Studio Art and Design and Build classes were full of color and creativity this week, as students began new projects to start off the Spring Term. In fiber arts class, students set up their looms with yarn spun from our sheep’s wool and helped wind new scanes of wool using a yarn swift. Over in the woodshop, students painted a few of the simple birdhouses that were built last term by an out-time group, before researching more intricate designs that they will construct from locally-sourced and campus-grown lumber this term. The birdhouses will provide nesting spaces for the swallows and bluebirds who share our North Country home when they are installed around campus. Meanwhile, ceramics students explored different artistic styles using a variety of handbuilding methods including slab rolling and coil-work, and created detailed surface textures using metal tools and silicon mats.


Top: A Saturday trip group on the summit of Pitchoff Mountain. Middle 1: The Pitchoff group explores Balanced Rocks. Middle 2: Lilly interviews Lauren on the top of Cobble Hill. Middle 3: The view from Cobble Hill. Bottom: Alice and Gemma on the frozen shore of Lake Champlain.

It was a busy week of hiking for our NCS students, as groups explored a few of the newly-thawed trails around our region after a long winter navigating the snow-covered ground. One Saturday trip group trekked from our backyard up to the summit of Pitchoff Mountain before continuing on to the Balanced Rocks vista, which offers stunning views of the surrounding High Peaks range, the Cascade waterfall, and our own NCS campus. Another group celebrated alongside teacher Claire Carson as she completed her Lake Placid 9er challenge with a hike up nearby Cobble Hill, participating in mock interviews about the day’s activities with the help of an inflatable microphone they’d packed along to the summit. A third group spent the day exploring the beautiful spaces around Lake Champlain, which separates our Adirondack home from the neighboring Green Mountains of Vermont. Students hiked around Point au Roche State Park, enjoying the changing views of the ice on the lake, and used GPS coordinates to find several geocaches along the way.


Top: Camila and Laurie collect maple sap. Middle 1: Dexter pours maple sap into a collection bucket. Middle 2: Pouring full sap buckets into the collection tank. Middle 3: Ariana helps Kim load the firebox. Middle 4: Emma explains the different parts of the sap evaporator to Edible Schoolyard elective students. Middle 5: Garden Manager Kim tests the sugar content of finished maple syrup. Bottom: Jay “cans” finished maple syrup.

Maple sugaring season has arrived in earnest on the North Country School campus, and we couldn’t be prouder of our students, faculty, staff, and especially our farmers for making the start of the season such a successful one. It’s been a busy few weeks up in our sugarbush, with several days of sap collection and two successful syrup boils to start off the season. This past week, our community worked together to collect over 1,000 gallons of sweet sap from the full buckets hung on our trees, which were then boiled down into the maple syrup that we will use in our dining room throughout the year.

On days when the sap is flowing, different grade levels help with collection in the mornings, while everyone is welcome to join in for afternoons out-times and evening boils in our Sugarhouse. Students are able to help with every stage of the boiling process, which includes loading the firebox with wood cut from our sustainably-managed campus woods, testing the sugar content of the sap throughout the evaporation process, watching the levels of the various sap tanks, and filling syrup jugs using the canner. “Canning” our finished syrup involves filtering and heating it through one final time, before pouring it into containers while it is still hot. This ensures that our maple syrup jugs are fully sealed and gives the end product a much longer shelf life. To date, we have produced more than twenty-five gallons of maple syrup this season and anticipate several more weeks of sugaring up ahead!