Core Curriculum

You have seen the Upper School students in orange vests with bright, smiling faces outside of our school selling cider these past few weeks. Have you wondered why? It is part of the work Montessori found most meaningful for adolescents. She believed that this is the time for these nascent adults to begin to join the society of adults, namely its economic life. It is the time for them to contribute their efforts and to receive compensation (in our case, the building up of a travel fund) in return. This "Micro-economy" work need not center upon apples. We may well sell jars of honey, chocolates, or candles as the year progresses. We chose cider because Hollis has long produced excellent apples and our property is an old orchard, where we tend and harvest our own apples. And apples are a celebration of the sunlight now fading. They are a sweet conclusion, a symbol of life, and a suitable gift to offer you. 

What is required of Micro-economy work is that it engages both the hand and the mind. These students have new, growing bodies that need to be strengthened and challenged. They need, as well, to be called to reason, to communicate, to make decisions, and to evaluate the results of those decisions. Their business name "Sunny Orchard" is such a nice, simple thing but it represents hours of discussion. This decision, however, was far easier that determining the price of a half-gallon of cider or choosing whether to offer pasteurized or unpasteurized cider. They have needed to think ahead, to think on their feet, to plan for contingencies, to compromise, to work when they were worn through.

They have needed to research regulations and processes, to talk to strangers, to write checks and keep accounts. They have worked in the rain; they have stood their ground when faced with yellow jackets and maggots. They have learned to persevere, an essential quality to a successful life as an adult. And by standing through these tests and by producing through their own efforts a lovely drink that the community wants to buy they have grown in confidence; in themselves and each other.

Academics have not been set aside. Problems with pasteurization and fermentation lead to chemistry and microbiology lessons. Contact with wasps lead to discussion and the key differences in form and function between wasps and bees. Articles and advertisements need to be written well. Conversion of units of measure, ratio and proportion, pi, and compounding interest have been required in order to achieve success. It has been real to the students. This has led to their complete engagement in the process. Engagement is the first requirement of learning.

-Jim Webster

A Rusty Cider Season

It was most dismaying to return to school in August, looking forward to a new cider season, only to find the leaves and fruit in our orchard covered with bright orange and black spots. A mild and rainy spring had caused our trees to become infected with the fungus cedar apple rust. Now our apples are small and pithy. We’ll have a lot less cider this year unless we can find another source for apples. Woodmont Orchard across the street, which has most kindly helped us out in the past, has fewer apples to spare this year. After a bumper crop in 2013, the harvest is likely to be a bust this year.

Cedar apple rust has an interesting life cycle. It requires both apples (or other rose-related species) and cedars (or other juniper-related species) in order to propagate. This spring, spores produced on junipers, wild or cultivated, landed on our apple leaves and blossoms just as they were emerging and were able to grow because the temperature was between 45 and 75° and were damp with rain. Orange spots formed as the mycelia that forms the body of the fungus invaded the plant cells. Damaged leaves means fewer nutrients for the tree and less healthy fruit for us. A couple months later spores were produced by those spots. Carried by the wind some of those millions will land on cedars planted in neighboring yards or on low-lying junipers down in Spalding Town Forest. There over the next year they will form a gall. Then, during the next spring rains, strange orange tentacle-like protrusions will emerge from the gall. Within a few hours these will begin to produce spores that the fungus forcibly propels into the air. And these float away, some perhaps to land and grow again on our trees.

Prevention is difficult. Removing all local cedars and junipers is challenging. Some apple cultivars are resistant. Spraying with a sulphur will reduce or even eliminate the infection, as will powerful fungicides. Sulphur is considered an organic solution. The rust does not kill the trees. Some simply hope that conditions are not, as they were this year, perfect for spore germination. As a back-up, we are considering working with a local farmer who might be able to spray our trees with sulphur when conditions warrant (and the children are away).

-Jim Webster