carrying sap bucketsPhoto: Students carry buckets of maple sap through the sugarbush.

It was a memorable week on our Adirondack campus—one that included some of the special programming we look forward to each year, including Intersession, student showcases, and the 9th-grade class trip to Utah. Wednesday morning also marked the start of one of our favorite seasonal events: maple sugaring season, our earliest since 2017. Each year we wait with anticipation for temperatures to enter a rhythm where they rise above freezing during the day and dip below freezing at night. These conditions allow the maple sap to begin running through the trees in our sugarbush before being collected in the buckets we hung last week. Since our founding in 1938, the sugaring season has represented one of the best examples of our community’s ethos of “many hands make light work” in action, when we come together to make the delicious maple syrup that our students savor throughout the school year and campers enjoy at Camp Treetops in the summertime. Taking part in this special tradition, while also enjoying Intersession’s Signature Program activities each day, was literally and figuratively a sweet way to celebrate the end of the Winter Term before heading off for Spring Break.

*Note: Our next This Week At NCS update will be posted following our first full week back after returning from Spring Break, on Friday, March 29, 2024.

INTERSESSION

a teacher and a student make a handheld gamestudents build robotsa student builds a cabinstudents look at light through a spectrographTop: Garth and Coco build an Arduino game. Middle 1: Bennett and Julian make a Lego robot. Middle 2: Wyatt works on a video art project. Middle 3: Mariana helps build Culpepper Cabin.  Bottom: Students look through spectrographs. 

Intersession allows our students to explore new areas of interest or take a deep dive into their favorite activities over the course of a week, with morning and afternoon sessions offered in dedicated Signature Program areas each day. Students can opt to spend their mornings engaged in farm-related projects and their afternoons exploring the outdoors, or learning how to weave a basket before trying out different Olympic events. 

Some of this year’s Intersession offerings gave students the chance to explore the world around them during science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and Design and Build activities. Students learned to make small handheld video games and Lego robots, captured and edited interactive video art pieces, and constructed parts of a timber frame cabin that will become a new addition to our Camp Treetops structures. Students also learned about the physics of the light that exists all around us by building homemade spectrographs that, when looked through, separate those various types of light into different wavelengths. 

a student with an animal track moldstudents practice curlingstudents at the ski hillstudents ski Top: Riiley with a mold of an animal print. Middle 1: Kingston and Ava learn curling. Middle 2: The Backcountry Ski group. Bottom: The Gondola Goals group at Whiteface. 

Other groups explored nature and learned about the long tradition of outdoor recreation in the Lake Placid region. One group traveled our campus trails to learn about different wild animal tracks before making their own molds of tracks from plaster casts, and another visited the nearby Lake Placid Olympic Museum to learn about the 1932 and 1980 Olympics that were held in our mountain home. They also got to try out a few Olympic events for themselves over the course of the week! Meanwhile, our enthusiastic skiers had plenty of time to work on their skills, with a backcountry ski group trying out going uphill on skins and taking wilderness runs through the trees, and a “Gondola Goals” group spending the week practicing their alpine skiing at Whiteface Mountain. 

students sew farm bagsa student weaves a basketa student baking competition Top: Ivy sews a tote bag from a farm feed bag. Middle 1: Rosalie weaves a basket. Middle 2: Landon and Cody talk to the Great NCS Bake Off judges about their cupcakes. Bottom: Mariana and Adrián make ravioli.  

Groups also got creative, with some students working with farm products like wool, leftover feed bags, and lard to make useful items for the community including dryer balls (which reduce energy usage by making dryer time shorter), grocery tote bags, and homemade soap. Our innovative students also wove baskets, and cooked and baked delicious dishes including beautiful cupcakes for the “Great NCS Bake Off” and dumplings of all sorts from around the world in search of “The Perfect Dumpling.”

SHOWCASES

a presentation in a theatera band performancestudents holding baskets a robot battle Top: Amanda introduces the “One Minute Film Festival.” Middle 1: The Flash Band performance, lit by a Retina Burn lighting scheme. Middle 2: Artemis and Angelina show off their baskets. Bottom: A Lego robot battle. 

Intersession week ends with Student Showcases, which are open to the community and allow families to see the innovative work and exciting adventures their students have been taking part in all week. On Friday afternoon everyone gathered in the Walter Breeman Performing Arts Center (WallyPAC) to participate in the “One Minute Film Festival” and vote for their favorite short movies, view the delightful “Great NCS Bake Off” competition, and enjoy the Flash Band performances, which consisted of bands that have only been together for one week and were lit by the “Retina Burn” group’s custom schematics. After the performances, attendees—along with the students in each session—were invited to walk around the space and visit tables with photos of and projects from the week. We were excited to see the many different ways students engaged in our Signature Programs throughout Intersession, and we loved having our greater community join us in celebrating their hard work and creativity.

MAPLE SUGARING

tapping treesstudents carry sap buckets passing sap buckets pouring sapTop: Kim shows students how to tap a tree. Middle 1: Maple sap drips from a spile. Middle 2: Emily and Claire carry a sap bucket. Middle 4: Pouring sap into the collection tank. Bottom: Julian and Claire collect sap. 

The Adirondack Park and our surrounding region is one of a handful locations in the world where sugar maple trees, which grow here in abundance, are an important part of our local food system and economy. On the North Country School campus we have been tapping sugar maple trees, collecting sap, and boiling sap into sweet maple syrup since our founding, and while many parts of life have changed on our campus since nearly a century ago, the way our students participate in the sugaring process remains nearly identical. Each February or March, depending on the weather and temperatures, students venture out to the sugarbush to tap maple trees by drilling holes into the trunks, hammering in spiles, and hanging collection buckets. During the window of time when the daytime temperatures reach above freezing but the nights remain cold, the sap starts to flow in the trees and it drips out of the spiles into the buckets, which are then collected by students and brought to the collection tanks. This week we participate in the first collection of the year, with more than 1,000 gallons of maple sap collected from our more than 500 tapped trees.

the sugarhousestudents learn about sugaring students stack woodTop: The Sugarhouse at the start of the boil. Middle 1: Kim explains the evaporation process. Middle 2: Ryan helps bring wood to the firebox. Middle 3: Val loads wood into the evaporator firebox. 

Once all the sap from the day has been collected our farmers move to the Sugarhouse, where the boil begins. Inside the Sugarhouse, wood that has been felled from our campus forest is used to fire the boiler, which evaporates water from the sap that comes in from the collection tanks outside. As water leaves the sap the percentage of sugar in the sap increases from around 2% to about 66%. This means that it takes 40 gallons of sap to become only 1 gallon of syrup! Students helped during our first boil by checking on the tanks, bringing firewood in from the shed, and loading the fire box every few minutes to keep the fire as hot as possible. After many hours of boiling the syrup is ready, and it is drawn off and bottled for storage. We can’t wait to enjoy this season’s first maple syrup on waffles, pancakes, and French toast in the upcoming months.

9th-GRADE CLASS TRIP

students in Utaha student hikesstudents on a mountaina student rappelsstudents skiTop: The 9th-grade class in Valley of Fire State Park. Middle 1: Roan hikes in Valley of Fire State Park. Middle 2: Vivián crawls through an erosion hole in Valley of Fire State Park. Middle 3: The 9th-grade class goes rappelling. Middle 4: Orrin rappels. Matías and Vivián ski at Brian Head Resort. Bottom: Anika stands with her tent at Zion National Park. 

While our 4th-8th graders were on campus helping with maple sugaring and participating in Intersession, our 9th-grade seniors were taking part in an enormous milestone in their NCS careers—the week-long trip to Utah. The group spent the week hiking, canyoneering, rappelling, and camping in protected land including Valley of Fire State Park and Zion National Park, and skiing the impressive trails at the famous Brian Head Resort. We are so proud of our oldest students for supporting one another, trying new activities, and putting into practice the Leave No Trace and Outdoor Leadership skills they’ve learned during their time as North Country School students, all while surrounded by spectacular terrain totally unlike that found in our Adirondack home. We can’t wait to hear all about their many adventures when we all return for our Spring Term in late March!