School taps into the local landscape


Money may not grow on trees, but maple syrup certainly does – in specific trees, to be exact. 

And Wyncote Academy in Elkins Park is celebrating this natural wonder at its third annual Whiskey & Waffle Event this weekend. The public is invited to come visit its “sugar shack” at 7827 Old York Rd., just above St. Paul’s Episcopal Church cemetery, on Sunday, Feb. 25, from 3 to 7 p.m. 

Visitors will be able to sample freshly made maple syrup from trees on the academy's grounds, along with roasted root vegetables also grown on-site and enhanced with a caramelized maple glaze. The offerings will be complemented by maple popcorn and Irish coffee, with the added attractions of a bonfire and a small farmers market to round out the experience.

This is now the third year for the program, which can be traced back to Mark Linkins, the head of Wyncote Academy since 2015. Upon discovering an available plot of land nearby, Linkins saw the potential for a program like this one. 

 “Someone said he knew a maple tree expert, Jethro Heiko, who had started such a program in East Oak Lane to get maple syrup through a grant he got at Stockton University from the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Linkins said. “He advised us to get the sap from the trees and make syrup. We were able to get an evaporator and started a sugar shack.”

So they took up a practice that remains largely unchanged from the methods first developed by Native Americans and later shared with European settlers and began making syrup – and now have 100 trees. The procedure is simple yet labor-intensive: sap is collected from sugar maple trees, boiled down for about four hours to the correct density, filtered, graded, and then packed. 

Wyncote Academy, celebrating its 50th anniversary, is not your average public school. Catering to 60 students with a range of learning differences, the academy has become a refuge for those who have faced challenges in traditional educational settings. 

Adrienne Redd, the online learning and community outreach coordinator at Wyncote Academy, said the hands-on making of maple syrup is just one good example of the school’s urban agriculture program – which is a core part of its curriculum. 

"Nearly every student at the school has participated in this program, which has been transformative for many," she said. 

Not every year is a winner. 

“Last year, we got only 50 gallons of syrup from 2,000 gallons of sap,” she said. “This year, we’ll get about 3,500 gallons of sap and maybe 150-175 gallons of syrup.” 

Hannah Roberts, a volunteer with the maple syrup program, said she particularly appreciates the use of land from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Elkins Park for agricultural purposes. 

“The church, founded by a prominent abolitionist, has a rich history,” she said. “This program taps into the tradition of making maple sugar as a way of becoming independent of the sugar industry that used” enslaved people.

The event is free and open to all who are interested. In case of inclement weather, alternative plans are in place. For more details, call 833-234-4590.