Students learn about maple syrup from Stockton

Attales students learn about maple syrup production from Stockton
Posted on 02/15/2023
A student hammers a tap into a maple tree at Absecon Public Schools Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.

ABSECON — Students at Attales Middle School had a chance to learn more about maple syrup production on Thursday, Feb. 9, when Debra Sommers, education specialist for Stockton University’s Maple Grant project, visited to help students tap their own Maple tree.

The students in Mary Beth Hodgens’ and Shana Caputo’s classes heard from Sommers about what makes Maple trees unique, how to identify them, and how Stockton is making syrup right around the corner in Galloway.

Stockton University was awarded a grant United States Department of Agriculture grant in 2020 to promote maple sugaring in the South Jersey region. Since then, they have received more federal funding and expanded production.

After learning about photosynthesis, Hodgens and Caputo wanted to continue the lesson for their students and invited Stockton to share information about their Maple program.

During the visit Thursday, Sommers and Stockton student David DeCredico took the students out into the woods behind the school to look for a Maple tree to tap.

During the excursion, Sommers stopped to pick up a branch. On it, she pointed to a tan sac that had formed.

“Do you know what this is?” Sommers asked the students.

After they took some guesses, she explained that the sac was formed by an insect laying eggs.

A little farther ahead, she stopped again.

“Look at this log,” she said, gesturing to the ground and placing a foot atop the trunk of a tree, now covered in leaves and rotting back into the earth.

The log was breaking down back into the soil, she explained, and the students each took turns inspecting the now-soft wood.

It took a brisk walk through a trail behind the school and around a field of solar panels before Sommers stopped again and picked up a small leaf with a wide grin.

“Look at this,” she said again, this time requesting that DeCredico take a closer look.

The small, three-lobed leaf on the ground was the first clue. DeCredico and Sommers ventured further into the brush, the students close behind, and found their second clue. A leafless tree with long, scaly bark and an “opposite” arrangement on its branches, all indicative of a Maple species. On one side of the tree, Sommers discovered several small holes arranged in a straight line.

A woodpecker had been feeding here, she said, which meant there was sap.

They had found their treasure!

The students gathered around to watch as Sommers and DeCredico prepared the tools to tap the tree. The students took turns hammering the tap into the tree, as well as the bucket to catch the soon-to-be “liquid gold.”

Next, as the students wait until the tap produces enough sap that it can be boiled down to make syrup, the teachers are planning a trip to Stockton to visit the university’s Maple area and see the production in action.

“We’re so grateful that Stockton was able to come out and visit with our students. They really enjoyed getting to experience tapping a tree and learning more about Maple syrup production,” Hodgens said.

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