Photo: Owen checks a sap collection bucket in the maple sugarbush.
The start of Spring Term has been marked by snowy activities and the return of treasured springtime traditions. Perhaps the biggest of these is the start of the annual maple sugaring season, which kicked off over the past week with the first sap collection and boil of the year. This regionally specific—and often fleeting—aspect of our farm program is also connected to our academic classes in a wide variety of ways; one 7th-grade science lesson, for example, focused on tree identification, photosynthesis, and measuring the sugar content of both sap and syrup. Students also participated in the sugaring process during afternoon, evening, and weekend activities by collecting sap in the sugarbush and helping to boil that sap into syrup in the Sugarhouse. We can’t wait to enjoy this season’s maple syrup on our morning pancakes and waffles.
Meanwhile, this past week’s bountiful snowfall provided the perfect opportunity to add another Whiteface Mountain Day to the schedule. Students were thrilled to get in an extra afternoon of skiing and snowboarding, and to practice the skills they’ve been learning all winter before the spring thaw arrives in earnest. It was a great way to begin the term, and reminded us of many opportunities for both learning and fun available to us in our Adirondack home.
Top: The 6th-grade math class works on a maple sugaring problem. Middle 1: The 6th-grade math class works on a seedling math problem. Middle 3: Edison writes observations about the sounds of the Main Building for English class. Middle 4: Emily records her observations about sound. Middle 5: Claire uses sight to make greenhouse observations for English class.
Maple sugaring season, the farm and garden, and the natural spaces around our campus offer an abundance of opportunities for place-based learning, and this week we saw these themes show up in academic lessons across grade levels and curricular areas. In 6th-grade math class, students practiced conceptualizing real world situations that affect our farm and gardens as algebraic equations. The class first looked at how much sap we have collected this week, discussed how much syrup could be produced from that sap, and calculated how much more sap needs to be collected in order to have a year’s worth of maple syrup. Our young mathematicians then practiced breaking down a math word problem that asked them to predict seedling growth, which our farmers must do each season in order to determine how to plan out our planting schedule.
Meanwhile, our 5th-grade poets have been exploring our campus buildings, trails, and farm spaces to better understand how to use their five senses to connect a reader to the physical spaces being described. The class first discussed how paying attention to what they hear and see in familiar spaces could allow them to notice new things. They then visited spots around campus, including the Main Building foyer, the Upper Field, the animal barns, and the greenhouse, and recorded sensory observations about those places using strong vocabulary to describe their surroundings. In the upcoming week the class will use their new skills, along with some of the language they found effective during this activity, to write place-based poetry that connects their reader to the locations described in the work.
Top: The 7th-grade science class visits the maple sugarbush. Middle 1: The 7th-grade science class learns about the sugaring process. Middle 2: Dipping a refractometer into maple sap. Middle 3: Dexter looks through a refractometer to determine the sugar content in sap. Bottom: The refractometer showing just above 2% sugar in our maple sap.
Our 7th-grade scientists spent the week learning about many different aspects of maple sugaring, beginning with the plant science involved in photosynthesis and how sugars are stored in different parts of a tree throughout the year. The group visited the sugarbush, where they learned how to identify sugar maple trees during the cold season, when they don’t have their trademark palmate leaves, by using bark markings and branching structure. They also toured the Sugarhouse, where they discussed the evaporation process with Garden Manager Kim. Using a refractometer, which calculates the sugar content in a liquid by measuring how light bends through that liquid, the class was able to determine that the maple sap currently in our collection buckets is just over 2% sugar. Later in the week the group visited Cornell’s Uihlein Sugar Maple Field Station in nearby Lake Placid, where they talked to maple experts about how boiling and reverse osmosis—two ways to remove the water from sap— are used to create maple syrup.
Top: The full cast read-through of The Hobbit. Middle 1: Students read the script for The Hobbit. Middle 2: Eva and Lauren build a spider for The Hobbit. Middle 3: Martin and Ezra build a spider for The Hobbit. Bottom: Wyatt and Luke work with Garth on Smaug’s head for The Hobbit.
It was an eventful start to the term for students involved in our spring theater production of The Hobbit. This Friday, the full cast gathered in the Walter Breeman Performing Arts Center (WallyPAC) for the first script read-through of the year. The large cast was able to hear how the characters interact with one another, which gave them the chance to try out different tones for specific scenes in the show. Meanwhile, students in Stagecraft class have been constructing the many set pieces needed for the intricate, large-scale show. Everyone continues to work diligently on the many, many spiders of different sizes that will be involved in the production, while math teacher Garth has stepped in to help the class and Stagecraft teacher Larry design Smaug the dragon’s moving head using servo motors controlled by an iPad. When the piece is complete, students off-stage will be able to blink and move the giant dragon’s eyes, and open and close the dragon’s jaw, while others will manually manipulate its body from on stage.
Most of our students spend the Spring Term working on some aspect of the play, whether it be by acting on stage, designing and sewing costumes, building set pieces, working behind the scenes on stage crew, running the lighting board, or working on makeup. When we see the final production at the end of May it will be the cumulative effort of the majority of NCS community members, all working together to make a memorable experience for both the audience and everyone involved.
Top: A ski group takes in the views at Whiteface Mountain. Middle 1: Snowboarders at Whiteface Mountain. Middle 2: William skis at Whiteface Mountain. Middle 3: A ski group at Whiteface Mountain. Middle 4: NCS alum Inyene talks to the student body about Access Wild Places. Bottom: Inyene gives a presentation about the Access Wild Places program.
The Adirondack Park is famous for its many towering peaks, and for the snowy conditions that high elevation brings with it. At North Country School we enjoy the winter conditions provided by our surrounding mountainous region throughout the Winter Term, both on our own campus and during weekly Whiteface Mountain skiing and snowboarding days. While the Spring Term, and the spring season, have both officially started, we often continue to have periodic snowfall throughout April. This week the new blanket of powder provided the perfect opportunity to add one more surprise Whiteface Day into our schedule, and students and staff alike were all smiles as they headed back to the mountain. Conditions were perfect and the views were spectacular from the mountain’s many overlooks. We are so glad we were able to get in a bonus day to spend time together at this wonderful local resource before transitioning into the warmer weather activities that we look forward to each spring.
An important aspect of the outdoor program at North Country School involves not just connecting our students to the natural spaces around them, but asking our students to think critically about how others can have access to forming those same kinds of connections. When recent alum Inyene was an 8th grader at NCS, she made her vision of increasing outdoor access a reality by working alongside Outdoor Leadership teacher Jess Jeffery and NCS leadership to create the Access Wild Places (AWP) camp—a free week-long camp for students that live in more developed suburban and urban areas of the country and don’t have regular access to nature. Inyene joined us this past week and gave a Town Meeting presentation to the student body about her experience starting Access Wild Places, and about the different students and adult mentors she’s met while attending the past several summers of AWP camp. It was wonderful for our students to see how a young person can positively impact others and make change in the world around them, and to be able to talk to Inyene and ask her questions. Thank you, Inyene, for visiting with us and sharing your experience and perspective!
FARM AND GARDEN
Top: Barn Manager Erica shows the riding elective class a horse skull during an anatomy lesson. Middle: Riding elective students learn how to cross-tie a horse. Bottom: Orrin picks Bo’s hoof.
This Spring Term our students have the opportunity to interact with and learn about our herd of horses not just during twice-daily barn chores and afternoon riding out-times, but also during the Riding elective class. This Wednesday students in this class met Barn Manager Erica at the horse barn to review some of the equine terminology and anatomy they learned last week. Next, Bo the horse joined the students for a hands-on lesson on cross tying—which uses a tie on either side of a horse’s halter to safely hold them in place—followed by a review of how to use different grooming tools to keep a horse clean and comfortable. As the term goes on the students will use their knowledge of equine health, anatomy, and fitness as they work with horses both from the ground and while riding.
Top: The Sugarhouse at night during a boil. Middle 1: Students help during an evening sap boil. Middle 2: Collecting sap in the sugarbush. Middle 3: Carrying buckets of maple sap. Middle 3: Garden Manager Kim makes soil-block trays for seeding. Middle 4: Zephyr, Tina, and Yolanda seed plants. Bottom: Lettuce seedlings in the greenhouse.
Sugar maple trees are a common tree in the Adirondack Park, making maple syrup an important part of our region’s agriculture. On the North Country School campus we collect sap and produce syrup the old fashioned way—in buckets hung on metal spouts called spiles, and by boiling that collected sap in a wood-fired evaporator. Maple sap flows through the trees when the daytime temperatures reach above freezing and the overnight temperatures are still very cold, and this week provided the right conditions to hold the first maple sap collection and boil of the year. As with so many aspects of our farm program, many hands make light work, and this week we saw students and adults collecting buckets of sap in the sugarbush during academic and elective classes and afternoon activities, and helping to boil that sap into syrup during fun evenings spent in the Sugarhouse.
Over in the greenhouses we are seeing more signs of spring, with the start of the seeding season. Garden Manager Kim and the farmers have been busy building the soil-block trays needed to start this season’s fruit, vegetable, flower, and herb seedlings, and students have been helping to seed these crops during afternoon and weekend activities. We have loved watching these tiny seedlings begin to sprout, and look forward to the upcoming weeks and months when our greenhouses will be bursting with healthy green plants.