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"Tapping" Your Local Resources As Lessons

Sharon Hathaway and her Leavitt Area High School class go on a trip to tap maple trees for syrup making
Sharon Hathaway and her Leavitt Area High School class prepare to tap Maple trees.

Wearing overalls and rain boots, teacher Sharon Hathaway (Tri-Town Teachers) gets ready for class at Leavitt Area High School. It’s not a traditional outfit for a teacher but Hathaway is not a traditional teacher and neither are her students, who on this day prepared to head into the woods to learn how to produce maple syrup.

Student taps Maple tree by hand with hammer“My students need this. They need anything hands-on, anything real, anything that ties to their real life. Sometimes these kids don't show up to class with a pencil but with these trips they show up prepared and ready to go. They are hands-on learners,” said Hathaway.

Hathaway is a family and consumer science teacher at Leavitt. Her class, Exploring River Valley, takes students away from the traditional four walls of a classroom and brings them into the community to increase their awareness in agriculture and natural resources. Hathaway, the 2013 Maine Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year, is more than just a teacher to her students, she is an inspiration. It’s seen in the students’ faces as they learn how the sap comes out of the tree.

“We learned a lot about how to make the syrup and the whole process. It brought me to the point where I want to do it on my own with my father. The trip opened a new door for me. We all appreciate Mrs. Hathaway’s hard work to let us do this kind of stuff,” said Senior Dustin Moore.

During the trip Moore and his fellow classmates explored in the woods where Hathaway’s son operates a small sugar shack and learned everything from how to tap a tree to how the evaporation process works. The lesson outside ended with a taste of the finished syrup product on top of fresh made pancakes. While the students may see the trip as fun, make no mistake Hathaway says, they’re learning more than they know.

Students pose for a photo as classmate documents the trip for the class slideshow“I think it helps them with some career ideas and I think it respects their heritage and that's a good thing. I also work on core curriculum with opportunities in writing. They’re learning new words and then I incorporate lessons with that knowledge. We wrote poems after one of the trips and after this trip we will create a picture slideshow with the vocabulary words,” said Hathaway.

Hathaway takes the class on a trip about twice a month thanks to grant money she received from two separate sources. The grant money is to be used to promote agriculture as a career path and Hathaway is grateful it exists saying it’s a shame she has to rely on grants to pay for what is truly needed in public schools. “The Governor would love this—he would love it to be done—but there is no funding,” said Hathaway.

Hathaway is a life-long MEA member who graduated from Leavitt in 1962 and then began teaching at the school ten years later. She says she’s reinvented herself 100 times as a teacher going from the traditional home economics years ago to what she does today. In fact, her roots are so planted at the school she taught many of her current students’ parents when they were children. That dedication is not lost even on the teenagers, some who took Hathaway’s class to discover themselves.

Students were able to enjoy a pancake breakfast with the farm's own maple syrup"It's a good experience…something I wouldn't normally be seen doing. By taking this class I get to interact differently with people that I normally wouldn't talk to. Then you can understand what their views are and you can relate to them better and you learn they are a lot nicer people than you think they are," said Senior Lindsey Arnold, known as one of two “fancy girls” in the class.

There are lessons in life and lessons in science rolled into one… all from a teacher who won’t stop learning herself in order to help her students grow.

“She’s a good person. She would help anyone,” said Senior, Jake “Boots” St. Laurent.

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