It is 40 degrees this morning with deep grey clouds. They were either lingering from last night rain or getting ready to unload another round of moisture on the cold wet ground. I am standing just outside the Maple house at the U of M Arboretum. I am meeting my daughter’s third grade classroom who have come to learn about tapping trees, making syrup and the Native American history around this activity.
It is a group of high poverty, high behavior issues and mainly boys. They tumble out of the bus loud and excited (even though she took a few minutes to quiet them down before leaving the bus). They are energized at the woods, the buildings and even more animated when they see me standing there. I have not been in their room as much this year but enough that they are thrilled I have joined them. There are hugs all around and then we all work to settle them so we can be on our way to our first activity.
My role is to help wherever I can – keeping boys mainly in line (which means off the rocks, out from under fences and out of the melting gardens). They had three short classes to participate in.
- The first was to see the lines that run out of the woods and into the Maple house where the sap is being cooked down to syrup. They tasted the fresh sap, they learned about how much water and sugar is in the sap. They saw the syrup being tested for sugar content and tasted both fresh maple syrup and the syrup they might get at the store that is not really Maple syrup at all.
- They then had a class on the history of sugaring – from Native traditions to pioneers, to how it is currently being done.
- Their last class was a march to the woods to identify a tree – a maple (not an oak), be sure if it was tapped before they find the right place to tap this year and then to drill a hole and hang a bag on the tree to let it fill.
Excited beyond belief!
During this time I was running – picking up the pieces of behavior that were bursting out of students that just find it hard to track, sit still and listen. Yes, we were tired by the time they finished their lunch and crawled back on the bus but as I waved good by and walked through the frozen gardens one more time here is what I thought :
- There was the moment that the mouthy boy with the nosebleed looking into my eyes grateful for the help, grateful for the ice I retrieved to settle his nosebleed and the smile he gave he the rest of the morning – even when I told him to get off the rocks.
- There was the smile and amazing grin on the Somali girl’s face when I showed her how to use the odd hand drier in the bathroom.
- There was the trouble maker who stood beside me in a time out, kicking dead leaves and sticks. When I asked if he had gotten to use the drill he angrily said no that was the problem. I suggested he take my hand and walk with me calmly. He did, we walked hand in hand and got at the back of the line. I eyed and nodded to his teacher – we moved quietly and slowly up the line and yes he got to help drill a hole in the tree and remove the drill. Life was good again.
- There were the girls with their I-pod trying to take pictures that I needed to keep moving along that were a bit sassy but were very happy when I help them get unstuck from the thorn bush they walked into.
- There was the wild boy who had tried to climbed tables, tried to throw his lunch grapes across the room and dragged behind all morning but as we lined up to walk to the bus he leaned against me, looked up with a smile and said, “I am so glad you were here.”
And so was I!