The Avery Coonley School is an institution with many long-standing traditions. One favorite involves Second Group (second grade) participating in the old-fashioned practice of maple tree tapping.
"Our founder, Mrs. Queene Ferry Coonley, promoted an educational philosophy that to this day includes a strong emphasis on hands-on experiences," said Sarah Batzel, Second Group teacher at ACS. "About a hundred years ago, young students would take care of farm animals and tap the maple trees, among other responsibilities. Maple tree tapping is an amazing process that the students look forward to."
The labor-intensive project begins with students heading outside to the grove of sugar maple trees on campus. "Groups of four students each are assigned to a sugar maple tree, and they take turns hammering a spile into their tree, as kids did many years ago," explained Batzel. "After the spile is inserted, the sap drips out into a metal bucket the kids hang under the tap. They catch some sap on their tongues to taste it, and they're initially surprised at how bland and watery it is."
The students collect sap for almost two weeks, and whenever the buckets get close to full, the kids transport it to a collection tank. At the end of the tree tapping period, the sap is filtered and a portion is ceremoniously heated over a bonfire by students. The rest of the filtered sap is then boiled into syrup by parent volunteers. "In addition to the actual tree tapping and sap collection, the students write poems, and read articles and stories about making maple syrup," added Batzel. "We tie in various academic areas, including math, science, history, social studies, and literacy."
For every 40 gallons of sap collected, the boiled-down end product yields only about a gallon of maple syrup. "The students serve a small dollop on top of ice cream for each student in the school," said Batzel. "Everyone gets to taste it, and the leftover syrup is divided for the Second Group students to take home to enjoy with their families. The kids absolutely love it!"
The Avery Coonley School
1400 Maple Avenue
Downers Grove, IL 60515