by Katie Wolpert
Barely one week after they tapped three maple trees, the third grade class at Junior Elementary school feasted on pancakes dressed with a quart of their very own maple syrup. Principal Ashley Workman flipped the griddle cakes and school cook Miss Dee Dee warmed the syrup. Mrs. Sweet (Yes, that’s truly her name!) made sure there was enough syrup for everyone.
Every morning four kids gather the sap when they get to school. It cooks in the 3rd and 4th grade classrooms for the rest of the day. When the boiling sap reaches 218 degrees Fahrenheit on their thermometer it is considered maple syrup.
Ashley Workman said that, “One day they didn’t get the syrup out of the cooker fast enough when it hit 218 and the syrup precipitated into maple sugar. So they spread it out onto a cookie sheet to cool and the 4th grade sampled their fresh-made maple candy instead.”
Small-scale maple operations used to be commonplace in West Virginia and support for this project from parents and grandparents is strong and heavily nostalgic. “Great Papaw would be so proud!” one parent commented.
This is a real-life lesson about culture, chemistry, biology, ecology and climate science. The students can track the weather and see how variations affect sap flow. The 4th graders cleared a trail through the woods to ease access to their taps, learning about the other trees and plants in their woods at the same time. Four kids go out to check on the taps every day, in all weather. Families engage and the whole school is excited to share in the experience.
So many of our WV schools are in small communities that at first glance have less to offer children than a school in a more urban environment. This project takes full advantage of our rural location and in a very engaging and tangible/taste-able way showcases one of the amazing resources right in our back yard. What treasures will these kids discover in the woods on the playground next?