As December falls deeper into winter, students in the Center for Technology, Essex forestry program can be found working hard in the middle of the holiday season preparing Christmas trees, festive wreaths and sweet treats to sell to the community.
Earlier this month, the students went out to the CTE-managed forest to cut down Christmas trees. Senior Asher Pellett said they trimmed the excess brush off the trees to reuse for holiday wreaths. He showed off the process of wrapping bundles of smaller evergreen boughs onto a metal wreath ring with green wire.
“It’s a little bit complicated, but it works,” he said, weaving the wire in and out of the wreath base.
Brian Japp, CTE forestry teacher, said each student makes at least two wreaths: one for a practice prototype to be brought home to families, and a graded one, which is perfected and sold to the community. He said the program gets between 30 and 40 wreath orders a year.
Courtney Berscheid, a junior at CTE, was also working on wreaths. The best part is getting to decorate them with bows (handmade with some difficulty, she noted) and adding adornments like fake snow, berries and small birds.
“It’s very, very fun,” she said. “Some [customers] choose the design, but most of the time it’s [our] artistic choice.”
In an adjoining room, other forestry students could be found preparing maple syrup for transformation into maple candies.
Ben Middleton, a senior, explained the process, which the students had just learned that day. When the boiling syrup reached a certain temperature, the students poured it into a metal funnel-like piece of equipment called the troth. A two-person job, the work required one student to hold the troth and another to guide the silicone maple leaf molds under the flowing sap to fill them up, he explained.
Japp said students have a hand in every part of the process, from tapping trees to processing sap to bottling syrup and making candies and maple cream.
Middleton said he and his peers will sell the candies at the school and to community members, and all their profits would be used for materials for the CTE programs.
The students are also selling poinsettia plants which they acquired from Claussen’s and learned how to foster in the CTE greenhouse, Japp said. More students could be found practicing their tractor trailer driving skills in the field out back.
Every student seemed to enjoy the projects and skills taught in the forestry program, lauding the immersiveness of the CTE curriculum.
“We learn everything in here; Japp just knows everything,” Berscheid said. “I asked him one day what gas does for a car, and he was just like, ‘Oh, let’s pop the hood, and let me show you.’”
Berscheid and Pellett agreed they learn better in their tech classes and prefer the program’s hands-on nature to other subjects. Pellett, who plans on attending college for forestry next year, added it’s helpful to graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in his next step but admires the flexibility of the program.
“A lot of guys in our class don’t want to go to college, but they’re still leaving high school with certifications and are able to go work under a forester or a logger,” he said. “You don’t have to go to college and spend money to do that, because you’ve done it here.”
Japp said he enjoys working with the forestry students every day and loves coming to school to teach them new skills.
“They’re a really great group of kids who are really invested in what we’re doing,” Japp said. “It’s always an interesting day.”