Kid Stuff

How Sweet It Is: NHS Students Tap Into Maple Syrup Tradition

Rebecca Mennecke |

Students in the special education program at North High School in Eau Claire recently had the sweet opportunity to get outside, enjoy the warm weather, and make freshly tapped maple syrup.   

The lesson came as a collaborative effort between Missy Cesafsky, a special education teacher, and Lucas Barth, vice principal at North, as a way to get kiddos outside to learn something new, concluding with an ice cream party – complete with fresh syrup.  

“It just brought joy to a whole other level,” Barth said. “It was fun. Anytime you can be outside and work with the environment and then ultimately have maple syrup on ice cream? It’s pretty amazing, really.”  

This week-long lesson started with students learning how to identify maple trees, how to drill a hole into their trunks, pound a spout in, and then add a sap holder. Barth, who has been making his own maple syrup with his wife and three children for more than seven years, brought all the equipment necessary to get sapping. “The first thing they’d do when they walked through the door is go to my window and look out and see how much sap was in the bag every day,” Cesafsky said, “and their eyes would just get huge and they’d smile.”  

After about a week of waiting, students snagged the bags and poured the sap into buckets, which Barth brought home to cook (as the cooking process can be a lengthy one). Meanwhile, students watched videos to learn more about the cooking process.  

“They were able to list all in order every single step that we did,” Cesafsky said. “And the temperatures. They were definitely all ears and paying attention. (It was) probably my best lesson in 18 years, to be honest. They were just very intrigued and happy and excited. And it just brought happiness into their life for a good solid week and a half. … They can’t wait to do it again.”  

The pair of educators plan to do a similar lesson next year, but expand it. As it turns out, Barth isn’t the only one who enjoys making fresh maple syrup, as school district Superintendent Michael Johnson also taps maple trees. A light-hearted competition between students and the superintendent is in the works for next year.  

“I’m all heart,” Cesafsky said. “I get very emotional when I see my kids succeed and be happy. It brought tears to my eyes, seeing how happy and excited they were, just knowing we made a difference.”  

For families looking to teach their own kiddos how to tap trees, Barth recommends the 40-20 rule: The best time to tap is when day temperatures are above 40 degrees, and night temperatures are below 20 degrees. That means the perfect season for making maple syrup is about three to four weeks in early spring, with the season recently slowing down in Eau Claire in late March.

To learn more about tapping trees in spring, visit