Photo: Lucy and Rhaya read to a sheep in English class.
At North Country School, spending time with the animals on our farm is a regular part of students’ days. In the morning before breakfast and every afternoon before dinner, groups of students head to the barnyard to help care for our horses, chickens, sheep, and goats. Afternoon out-time activities frequently take place in animal spaces, and include everything from making hay deliveries to helping prepare the barn for new animal arrivals. Riding activities offer students the opportunity to work on their equestrian skills and gain an understanding of animal health and fitness.
The barnyard is also frequently a setting for our place-based academic classes. This week, 6th-grade English students spent time with our farm animals while practicing the public speaking skills they’ve been working on this year. The animal listeners proved to be a captive (and affectionate) audience throughout the activity, which offered our students a low-pressure environment to read out loud to a group. It was great to see everyone become more comfortable with this skill as they spent time with the barnyard creatures that also call our campus home. Not only that, it served as a reminder that caring for and interacting with these animals cultivates a sense of calm, compassion, and confidence within our students that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Top: The 8th-grade history class discusses voting rights. Middle 1: Anika reads a handout about voting rights. Middle 2: Jack and Kevin look at a topographic map. Bottom: Nadya and Eva mark watersheds on a topographic map.
Each week our 8th-grade U.S. history students engage in a roundtable discussion on the moment in history they’ve been learning about. As part of their most recent unit on the Civil Rights Movement, the class has been focusing on an issue that continues to be a common topic of conversation in politics today: voting rights in the United States. The rousing and thoughtful discussion allowed students to share their thoughts and feelings about past restrictions on voting rights in this country, on historic moments where rights were expanded, and on how access to voting is discussed in today’s political dialogue.
Those same 8th-grade students looked into another issue that affects us each day in their environmental science class—watersheds levels. The class used topographic maps that represented our local area, as well as maps of places around the world, to see how water runs to and from different places, and how that route and those levels impact the natural environment and populations that have developed around them. By understanding how waterways are connected, the class can better understand how both small changes and large-scale problems (such as pollution) in specific areas can have wide-reaching impacts.
Top: William reads to Mercury the barn cat. Middle: Rhaya reads to a sheep. Bottom: Octa reads to Sterling the horse.
Academic lessons at North Country School often connect to our campus and local environment. This week our 6th grade English class visited the barnyard for an activity that allowed them to spend time with the animals we raise on our farm. As part of their Spring Term unit focusing on themes of resilience and interpersonal connection, over the past several weeks each student in the class has been reading either Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan; Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt; or One for the Murphys, also by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. In addition to participating in group discussions that discuss these themes and how they can relate what they’ve been reading to their own lives, the class has also continued to work on building their confidence while speaking in front of and reading out loud to others. During their visit to the barnyard, students read to the animal or animals of their choosing, who provided a warm and welcoming environment for this important skill-building activity.
Top: Sierra explains how to build a camera obscura. Middle 1: Riiley covers a window in the Hike House to build a camera obscura. Middle 2: Getting ready to test the camera obscura. Middle 3: An upside-down projected image made by the camera obscura. Middle 4: A group dance performance. Bottom: Enola, Sienna, and Cherry in a dance performance.
When students learn about photography, they often start at the beginning. The first lessons our younger photography students learn are centered around the fundamentals and history of early cameras, and include building pinhole cameras and camera obscura, both of which have been used throughout history to project and capture images. This week the 5th-grade photography class met in the photo room to learn how to design and build their own camera obscura, which is a small dark room or box where a hole in one wall lets in light that projects an upside-down image on the opposite wall. Cardboard and tape in hand, the class moved to the campus Hike House, where they covered the windows and door and hung a sheet on the wall. Using a camera lens put through a hole in the cardboard, students were able to see the road, trees, buildings, and students outside the Hike House in an upside down and shadowy projected image.
Students in dance class and dance out-times have been taking a closer look at how dance can tell stories and challenge stereotypes, and this past weekend the groups were able to perform the pieces they’ve been working on for the larger school community during our Sunday evening activity. It was a wonderful and thoughtful performance, with pieces centered around famous storybook characters who have historically been viewed as the villains of their tales, portraying those characters with nuance and compassion as they interacted with one another and the audience. Congratulations to our talented dancers for the culmination of your hard work throughout the past several months!
Top: Snowshoeing on the Jackrabbit Trail. Middle 1: A Saturday hiking group on North Boquet Mountain. Middle 2: Saturday trip group builds birdhouses. Middle 3: Sophie sets an NCS record during out-time. Middle 4: A group plays futsal in the Quonset during out-time. Bottom: Keira relaxes in an on-campus lean-to.
Spring in the Adirondack Park is commonly known as mud season, and this past week presented us with the varied conditions that often go along with this time of year as we edge toward the warm weather in the upcoming forecast. Groups adapted to the intermittently snowy, rainy, icy, muddy, cold, and warm conditions during weekend trips and afternoon activities, finding creative ways to be active and have fun both in and outdoors. Saturday trips brought one group of students on an adventurous snowshoe bushwack to one of our favorite nearby hidden gems—the Jackrabbit Trail beaver ponds below the north face of Pitchoff Mountain. Another enjoyed slightly warmer, less snowy conditions near Lake Champlain, where they hiked Boquet Mountain and took in the sights from the multiple viewpoints along the rolling trail. A third group spent half of the day collecting sap in the sugarbush, and the other worked on a project that aims to increase biodiversity on our campus. Working together with the farm and garden, as well as our woodshop classes, the group assembled sections of birdhouses that will be installed around campus and provide shelter for migrating bird populations.
During afternoon out-times, some students worked around the inconsistent weather by perusing the North Country School Record Book and breaking some records set by former classmates, including “most cartwheels” and “most times up and down the floating stairs while balancing a book on your head.” Others participated in an energetic game of futsal, or indoor hard-court soccer, in the Quonset, or ventured around our campus trails while taking sheltered breaks in several of our lean-tos and at the yurt.
FARM AND GARDEN
Top: Isaac shows the 4th- and 5th-grade Edible Schoolyard class how to peel birch bark off a log. Middle 1: Emily peels birch bark from a log. Middle 2: Explaining how to construct birch collection baskets and cones. Bottom: Ryan uses a template to make a birch basket.
Much like our 5th-grade photography lesson, which referred back to the original methods of taking pictures, this week’s 4th- and 5th-grade Edible Schoolyard class looked at the traditional Anishinaabe methods used to collect, boil, and store maple syrup. The Anishinaabe, who are the Indigenous people of the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States, have been collecting maple sap and making maple sugar for centuries using birch bark as both sap collection baskets and storage cones for finished sugar. The class met by the campus woodshed to remove bark from felled paper birch logs, and then learned how to cut, fold, and stitch together those sections of bark into their finished receptacles. The lesson allowed our students to gain a deeper understanding of the history and significance of this important local food, and the different amounts of work and time it takes to produce maple syrup and maple sugar depending on the resources and technology available.
Top: The 8th-grade meets outside the sugarhouse to collect sap. Middle 1: Claire and Marley collect sap. Middle 2: Gerby carries sap. Middle 3: Ariana adds defoamer to the evaporator to minimize bubbling. Middle 4: Monty draws off syrup in the Sugarhouse to test sugar content. Bottom: Taylor loads the firebox in the Sugarhouse.
Thanks to the warm days and cool nights, our own sugaring season is in full swing, and the majority of our community has put in their own work and time to help produce the maple syrup we will enjoy throughout the upcoming year. On days when the sap is flowing and has filled up our 500 collection buckets, groups spend the morning in the sugarbush transporting the sap to the collection tanks. Boils begin in the Sugarhouse once collection is complete, and our students and staff have been eager to help Garden Manager Kim with this special part of our farming season that often goes late into the night. During afternoon and evening activity time, students can often be found helping to test the in-progress syrup for sugar content using a hydrometer (maple syrup is ready when it reaches 66% sugar), adding defoamer to the evaporation tank so the sap doesn’t boil over, loading the firebox to keep the fire burning as hot as possible, and bottling finished syrup so it can be stored. So far this season we have produced 30 gallons of syrup from the 2,620 gallons of sap collected. Thank you to our farmers, and to the many hands that have been making light work of this busy time of year!