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LEARNING THAT POURS

Pulaski students see maple syrup in cooking process
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Cole Gorecki, a seventh-grade student at Pulaski Community Middle School, stirs a pan full of xylem sap as it’s being cooked down to pure maple syrup Friday outside the school. Gorecki learned about the process last year and is one of the students helping with the process this year.

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Pulaski Community Middle School sixth-grade teacher Jon Wood shows students what a hydrometer is during an outdoor learning day at the school Friday. Wood started teaching about the process of making maple syrup first at Fairview Elementary School, but he brought his curriculum with him four years ago when he transferred to PCMS.

The steam enveloped a group of students Friday morning at Pulaski Community Middle School as they observed a batch of sap from a maple tree boiling on top of a wood-fired cook stove.

Group by group poured out of the school to observe in person how maple syrup makers get what they need from the trees to create the topping for countless pancakes, waffles and slices of French toast.

The outside class was the culmination of several weeks of work that started with students and staff tapping trees outside the school and within the nearby school forest. It is a project that PCMS teachers Jon Wood and Dave Landers have spearheaded for four years. Before that, Wood conducted the education for a decade at Fairview Elementary School, the Pulaski Community School District’s northernmost school.

“We have kids involved in the entire process,” Landers said. “We start when we see a run of temperatures that are below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. We have about 30 trees out front and a school forest nearby with maple trees there, as well.”

The school has collected almost 200 gallons of sap, and with 40 gallons of sap making one gallon of maple syrup, there will be about five gallons once all is done. The processed syrup will be used at the school’s end-of-the-year celebration to top ice cream and other goodies, according to Landers.

The wood that fires up the stove comes from the school’s forest, and the stove and pans were built by the technology education department at Pulaski High School.

“This is special about where we live,” Landers said. “The climate lends itself to maple syruping, and that doesn’t happen all over the United States. This is a way for people to connect their learning to the outdoors.”

Wood said when he started teaching about maple syrup, he hadn’t had any hands-on experience but refined his teaching with the help of other maple syrup producers in the area.

“Parents kind of noticed and gave me pointers, and as the years went on, I learned more and was able to get better at it,” Wood said.

Cole Gorecki, a seventh-grade PCMS student, first learned about the maple syrup process when he was in sixth grade, and now he’s helping Wood and Landers with tapping the trees, stirring the sap and doing anything else he can to help other students learn.

“I like it because I like being outside, and this is just another reason to get outside during school,” Gorecki said. “You get life lessons and learn how to make your own maple syrup.”

Cade Willer, another seventh-grade student, said he’s eager to take what he’s learning and utilize it later in life. He noted that he has an uncle with 40 acres of mostly maple trees, and he’s hoping to see about tapping them for sap and trying to make his own syrup.

“It’s a great opportunity to expand your learning outside,” Willer said. “I’ve got a couple of maple trees at my house, and I want to try it out just to see how much sap I get, because my maple trees aren’t tremendously big.”

The middle school hopes to expand its syrup making process, as there are plans to build a sugar shack that provides an enclosed area for cooking the syrup. A recent timber sale has helped to raise some funds, but Wood estimates it will take about a year before the school breaks ground on the structure.

“The timber harvest was unpredictable, and it all depended on if the ground was frozen,” Wood said. “We had the idea that we would be in a shack this year, and it just didn’t happen.”

While the current outdoor setup isn’t hindering the syruping process, Wood believes that having the shack in the school forest will add to the authenticity of the hands-on learning. He noted that the shack could be used as an outdoor classroom during other times of the year, as well.

“This is experiential learning,” Wood said. “We just supervise, and by the eighth grade, they can show those other kids what to do. It’s just such a great process, and that type of learning sticks with them for life.”