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Reverse field trip gives kids at home the chance to learn about syrup production

And teachers the chance to see students they’ve only spoken with through a screen
Maple syrup tapping at home
Maple syrup tapping at home
Published: Mar. 17, 2021 at 6:38 PM EDT
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HAMPDEN, Maine (WABI) - A phys-ed teacher in Hampden has been tapping trees to make syrup at his home for years and does it as a project with students with trees at the Weatherbee School.

Andrew Plaisted, better known as Mr. Plaisted to his students, came up with the idea of a reverse field trip to bring the project to students who are going to school remotely.

”We go to them instead of taking them someplace.”

25 kids in 4th and 5th grade at the George B. Weatherbee school in Hampden and the Samuel L Wagner and Leroy H Smith schools in Winterport have tapped trees either at their home or at the home of a neighbor or relative. Families had the option to opt out if they didn’t feel comfortable with the visits.

They first helped the students tap the trees three weeks ago. Now they make the rounds to all participating students every Wednesday and collect the sap.

I caught up with Mr. Plaisted and 4th grade teacher Ms. Jenna Bragdon at the home of 4th grader Elias as they went to collect sap for the second time.

Elias was very excited to be checking the sap bucket on the tree in his front yard. This week he had about an inch of sap in the bottom of the 5 gallon pail.

“Very awesome.” he said. “I actually never saw sap before.”

The students learn to identify sugar maples, how to tap the tree, and more.

“The kids are really latching onto it.” said Mr. Plaisted. “We come to their house, they’re excited.”

Cayden is a 4th grader at the Smith School. He says it’s tricky to get the lid off the sap collection bucket, but he looks forward to the teacher’s visits. “It was really fun.”

This week he netted 4 and a half inches of sap from his tree. The students have math assignments to convert the measurements into gallons.

Cruz Spann, a 5th grader at Wagner was perhaps the most excited of all the kids I spoke to. “This is making me feel more active, and it’s really fun to get outside.”

“We added a lot of science to it.” says Mr. Plaisted. “We intend to chart the temperatures, chart the amount of sap that they can collect.”

Cruz was astonished to see his sap bucket overflowing.

“It’s exciting to see that that tree can get so much sap out.”

Ms. Jenna Bragdon, a 4th grade teacher at Weatherbee, was helping to record the amount of sap collected, and says the students have turned it into a bit of a contest.

“The day after they were like, who had the most? Who won?”

The week Cruz’s overflowing bucket let him easily proclaim. “I got the most sap!”

Though he admits he can’t take all the credit.

He laughed. “Yeah...it’s the tree.”

Cruz’s teacher, Lauren Lumm, is the remote-only 5th grade teacher for RSU 22. She helped him carry his heavy bucket of sap over to the truck to be measured. It’s the first time she’s seen her student in person.

”It’s a little bit surreal almost, you know. I get to see how tall they are. I’ve never seen that before, and I’ve been teaching them for over 100 days, but I just see their faces.”

Ms. Bragdon says the reverse field trip idea is catching on.

“I’ve pitched it to a lot of my friends out of state because I’ve worked out of state and they are in love with the idea and are thinking of doing it there. If you can’t take the kids out, go to them.”

The students are enjoying the learning process, but they’re most excited for the end product. At the end of the project, the sap will be boiled down into syrup and distributed to the students. I asked them what they plan to do with their sweet share.

“Add it all up and then make maple syrup!” said Elias.

“Put them on pancakes or waffles.” said Cayden.

“Possibly have some pancakes with my mom and dad.” said Cruz.

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