If members of St. Johnsbury Academy's Forest Resources and Land Management class offer you a glass of "100 percent homemade" cider, they mean exactly that.
They didn't just use locally grown apples. They used locally grown materials to build the press that squeezed them, too.
The press project began a few years ago when students enrolled in a course taught by Career and Technical Education teacher Sam Nijensohn and members of the Academy's Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter started constructing the device by milling lumber from a local ash tree.
Nijensohn wanted to capture the old "Yankee" spirit of thrift and ingenuity while providing his students with an authentic learning experience "where the kids take a project from 'start to finish,' starting with the forest ... and involving all the major players, including the landowner, logger, trucker, sawmill operator, carpenter, and end user."
Aided by additional advice from CTE teachers Roo Mold and Bret Bourgeois, this year's class designed the apple chipper mechanism, using chainsaw chain on the drum.
"It worked great," Nijensohn said on Oct. 4, after the students conducted a thorough mechanical and taste test. "It took a few years, but in forestry we are used to thinking on long term scales," he added. "Now it has finally come to fruition -- pun intended."
"We have a bit of tinkering still to go to make it perfect, but the cider tasted great and we made enough today to share with a few classes," Nijensohn continued. "It was a great project for the students to create a few "value-added products -- one with wood and one with apples -- and have fun designing and tinkering as we went."
This project serves as an exemplar for two of St. Johnsbury Academy's key initiatives: to promote environmental stewardship and to use authentic assessment to evaluate student progress.
James Bentley, the Academy's director of Environmental Stewardship, sees it as a critical piece of the Academy's environmental stewardship mission. "Environmental stewardship means that within all aspects of our institution, community members strive to make choices that reflect our commitment to the conservation of Earth's resources."
Making the connection between environmental stewardship and the Academy's history, he went on to say, "The long and challenging journey towards a more sustainable campus is one we embrace with optimism in order to live out the words of the Athenian Oath inscribed in historic Fuller Hall: "To leave this place better than we found it."
To assess student progress, Nijensohn uses an "employability rubric" that he says, "is geared towards grading students as an employer would grade his employees." The rubric assesses the students' commitment to safety, teamwork, respect, flexibility, and honesty and integrity, among others, and uses both student and teacher input to determine a final grade.
Additional information about the Academy's Forest Resources and Land Management class is available by visiting the school's website, www.stjohnsburyacademy.org.