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A sweet sign of spring

Maple syrup season is in full swing as weather conditions near perfection for sugar water collection throughout the region.

At Groveview Farm in Hesston, the maple trees have been tapped for a few weeks and boiling resumed this morning.

“It’s been a good year,” said Clair Grove of Groveview Farm. “The quality is really good. The past couple years, we’ve had problems with all of a sudden it getting warm in the spring.”

To make maple syrup, sugar water — not sap — is collected from the maple trees as it makes it’s way up from the roots into the branches to swell the buds.

“Throughout the industry, they call it sap, but its not sap. It’s the sugar water that comes before the sap,” he said. “The sap is the lifeblood of the tree, so we can’t take the sap out of the tree. That would kill the tree.”

Sap begins to run when the weather conditions become warmer and has a sticky consistency. It’s also bitter rather than sweet.

“This year, it was cold for awhile and then it started to ease up,” said Grove. “Now, it’s getting cold at night in the 20s and up into the 40s in the daytime. (The sugar water) runs good up until it gets about 50. If it gets above 50, it will slow down because it starts to get warm enough that the tree is figuring on growing. It will shut the sugar water off on us.”

The optimal weather conditions of cold nights and warmer days is currently augmented by the fact the snow cover provides additional cooling over night.

“As of now, it’s running real well. The snow has a lot to do with it,” he said. “The snow makes it colder at night even though it would be warm. It puts it down into the 20s.”

The trees were producing at high rates throughout the morning Monday, with about 900 gallons of sugar water collected before noon.

“It’s been a crop my whole lifetime,” Grove said. “I’ve been making it for 70 years.”

Grove’s family began producing maple syrup commercially in 1914 when his grandfather traveled to New York to purchase an evaporator and 450 buckets. He became the first one to sell maple syrup in Huntingdon County.

“A normal good year is 200 gallons. We’ve had two years that were not good for us, with 89 gallons two years ago and 126 gallons last year, which was a little better,” he said. “They’ve been out gathering, so we’ll fire up the evaporator Tuesday and Wednesday.”

The maple syrup is sold from Grove’s house and he also stocks some at Brenneman’s Meat Market. Historically, syrup produced on his farm has been purchased for shipment out of state and out of the country, which means he is inspected both by the state and by the federal government.

“Most of the people come right here,” said Grove.

While the process is labor intensive, Grove said the secret to his many years of hard work in the field is the joy he takes in it.

“Everyone should have as much fun as I do,” he said.

HASB members hear sees learning presentation

Monday night, the Huntingdon Area School Board viewed a presentation about eSpark Learning, a digital learning application that customizes to students and gathers data to allow teachers to better tailor learning to individuals.

Matt Robinson of eSpark Learning gave the presentation through the internet, video calling from Wisconsin.

“I want to walk you through what we do at eSpark Learning as you consider what your options are for the future of personalized learning,” Robinson said. ESpark Learning offers personalized learning material for students from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade in both math and english language arts.

He explained one of the biggest problems facing educators is personalizing their content for their students. In years past, teachers taught lessons that played to the middle educational level of the room, hoping to match education levels with as many students as possible but unable to personalize due to lack of time and resources. ESpark seeks to solve this problem.

“Teachers have a finite amount of time,” he said. “We want to support them to do what they do best — teach.”

Robinson showed a picture of a one-room schoolhouse from the 1920s and said this was the former mentality toward education.

“Notice here all the desks are facing forward, in one direction,” he said. “If we use our imaginations, we can imagine only one thing being taught (to all the students). (Educators) were hoping that it would march right down the middle and most students would be able to gather and learn at that level. What we know now, in 2019, is that there is a better way to teach.”

Robinson explained that differentiation, teaching that is tailored for each individual learner, allows students to learn better and not be left behind or left unchallenged.

“We at eSpark help students learn at their level and have fun while doing it,” Robinson said.

The application tailors specifically to students by building off their PSSA testing data, seeing what specific areas they need help with. The application then teaches by allowing kids to embark on learning “quests,” Robinson explained.

“Students go (into the application) and embark on a quest,” he said. “It’s a chance for them to practice and learn a skill perfectly made for them.”

The quest begins with a pre-quiz to test the student’s knowledge of the topic. Then the student watches videos on the topic and performs activities to practice and play with the concept. Robinson showed examples of small games and questions based around a lesson on fractions, allowing students to have fun while learning.

Afterward, students take a quiz to measure how much of the information they remember, and then they have the opportunity to creatively teach the content they learned back to the teacher.

“The creative challenge gives the student a chance to find their voice,” Robinson said. “Sort of be the YouTuber of that moment. (Through their device) students have a chance to teach their teacher what they have just learned.”

Robinson showed an example of a video a kindergartener recorded to teach her teacher about the lesson she had just learned. This allows kids to express themselves and the teacher to watch for learning comprehension.

After that, the program offers a chance for students to celebrate what they have learned.

Teachers will also receive weekly updates on how students are faring in the program. They will receive information on which students are struggling with similar issues. This allows teachers to break students into effect groups and better manage their time and resources while giving students the help they need.

The goal of the program is to offer teachers a better way to help students and a way for students to learn in a fun way.

“When you are thinking about what personalization can do for Huntingdon classrooms, eSpark is a tool that is designed to allow students to have a ton of fun while being met at their individual level,” he said. “I want to give you a little familiarity with what we are as (the school board) considers and explores their options for the 2019-2020 school year.”

The board thanked Robinson for his presentation.

Jesse can be reached at

Superhero film opens to rave reviews

Movie theaters around the nation were kept busy this past weekend as fans came out in droves to see the latest action film — made even more noteworthy given its female protagonist.

Released to coincide with National Women’s Month, the film stars Brie Larson who takes on the role of a fighter pilot turned super-charged hero on a quest to protect earth from an intergalactic enemy.

“People have really liked it,” said Dave Peoples, owner of Huntingdon Cinema’s Clifton 5. “It has drawn some really good crowds.”

Despite some inexplicable efforts to quell enthusiasm through poor online reviews before the film was ever even released, current reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

“They did the same thing when Wonder Woman came out,” Peoples said. “Some of the sites like Rotten Tomatoes are moving toward not allowing reviews to be posted until the film comes out.”

Peoples shared his belief that more people will be coming out to view Captain Marvel this week and next weekend as many area residents were watching high school basketball playoffs or taking part in the annual Huntingdon County PRIDE Wing-Off.

“Saturday’s crowd was really good and solid,” he said. “But, I haven’t seen the teenagers come in en masse yet as there were still basketball games Friday night.”

The overarching message of resilience and self-confidence, paired with perseverance through failures, is one that resounds with all ages.

“We had an auditorium full of students from Juniata College who all seemed to think it was great and other people are coming out afterward talking about how much they liked it, too,” said Peoples. “We’re seeing all ages enjoying it. Little girls really like it because she’s really cool.”

In a genre not traditionally dominated by female superheroes, Captain Marvel grossed $153 million in its opening weekend in the United States.

“I watched a good bit of it from the projection port,” he said. “It seems like a really good film. We’ve been playing it in two auditoriums this week to give people an opportunity to see it. Next week, we’ll go back to one screen.”

In consulting with his booking agent, Peoples said the preliminary positive response has been observed by many of his fellow theater owners.

“People like the movie,” he said. “I’m happy the weather broke and we had a big movie coming out at the same time.”

The upcoming movie outlook seems positive as well, as does the weather forecast.

“Wonder Park looks like it’s going to be a good one for kids,” said Peoples. “Another week down the road, we’ll have Dumbo. That’s going to be live action, so it should be a good movie for kids too.”

Jurors picked for three trials

Jury selection for the March trial term concluded Monday after three panels were seated to hear cases this week and next.

The first of the three trials is scheduled for Thursday, March 14, when jurors will hear the commonwealth’s case against Ryan Brock, 25, originally from the Lancaster area, who allegedly struck and kicked a prison employee Nov. 22, 2017, while incarcerated at SCI Huntingdon.

Brock, represented by public defender Christopher Wencker, is charged with felony 2 aggravated assault and misdemeanor 2 simple assault.

Eight women and four men were chosen to hear the case.

Lamont Zamichieli, 29, originally from the Philadelphia area, will stand trial Monday, March 18, on charges including felony 3 aggravated harassment by prisoner for allegedly mailing explicit, contaminated letters to three woman, including his counselor.

State police at Huntingdon report the alleged incidents occurred between April 25 and May 6, 2017, while Zamichieli was an inmate at SCI-Huntingdon.

Nine men and three women were picked to hear the case. Zamichieli is represented by Wencker.

A two-day trial is scheduled for the commonwealth’s case against Tyler Swan, 29, of Petersburg, who is charged with felony 2 possession of contraband for allegedly having a controlled substance in his cell at the Huntingdon County jail June 1-22 of last year.

Eight men and four woman were chosen to hear the case Thursday and Friday, March 21 and 22. Swan is represented by attorney Lawrence Newton.

Jury selection, officiated by Huntingdon County President Judge George Zanic, wrapped up just after noon Monday.

Monday afternoon, Keith Adams, 25, originally from the Pittsburgh area, entered a guilty plea to felony 2 possession of a controlled substance. Adams had been scheduled for a bench trial in front of senior Judge Stewart Kurtz but instead entered the open plea.

Kurtz, who noted felony 2 offenses are punishable by up to 10 years in prison, will issue a sentence at a later date.

Adams was charged as a result of an incident that started in the visiting room at SCI Smithfield Feb. 16, 2018. State police at Huntingdon report prison staff noticed Adams was choking and provided the defendant with medical assistance. In the process, staff discovered Adams had in his possession a couple of balloons and synthetic marijuana.

Adams is currently held at SCI Coal Township in Northumberland County. He told the judge he would prefer to appear via video conference when he’s due in court for sentencing.

Rebecca can be reached at

TMSD members to OK makeup days

The Tussey Mountain School Board Monday night reviewed an agenda for its regular meeting next week that calls for—what else—adjusting the school calendar because of bad winter weather last month.

Meeting in the administrative conference room, the nine-member board learned they will be asked to approve a revision in the 2018-19 school calendar next Monday night that will set Tuesday, June 4, as a makeup day for students. The change is necessary because of snow, rain and flooding that occurred late last month, noted Dr. Gary Dawson, district superintendent.

“We’ve had snow, rain and flooding, hopefully we’ll be able to make it through the month without any more disruptions,” noted Dawson. “We had six days in the school calendar, we’re down to just one more day.”

Also, on the agenda next week is a motion to accept, with regret, a resignation letter from school psychologist Haylee Neal who will work her last day June 19. Neal, who was hired a year ago for the position, will be relocating from the school district, explained Dawson.

In other personnel matters, the board is expected to hire a new volleyball coach following a review of applicants set for this Wednesday by the athletic committee.

The board will also act on a motion to hire G.H. Harris Associates Inc., a collection agency which will attempt to collect over $4,000 in outstanding student-related debt, mostly attributed to unpaid cafeteria meal costs.

“The problem is becoming more common in school districts in the state,” explained the district superintendent.

The cost of utilizing the collection firm will be added to the outstanding bills, added Dawson.

The board will act next week on the hiring of an assistant drama coach and a volunteer reading competition coach. Also scheduled is a motion to approve a low bid for the purchase of two Stihl weed eaters at a total cost of $560.92.

Also, on the agenda are motions to approve a building use request for the elementary school and four requests for use of the high school, along with six conference requests and six field trip requests.

Following the brief work session, board president James Hodge called for an executive session for personnel matters.

Ron can be reached at

Borough receives two resignations

In addition to dealing with issues regarding the fire services agreement and the flood plain ordinance, two resignations were submitted to Alexandria Borough Council members at the monthly meeting Monday evening.

Sam Miller, who has served as mayor since 2016, officially tendered his resignation, but council members did not officially approve it, under the recommendation of solicitor Chris Wencker.

“I did some quick research, and he can resign, and unless you vote to accept the resignation, it will become effective in 45 days,” Wencker said. “After the 45 days, you’ll have 30 days to find someone to replace the position. If you delay the vote, you’ll have two and one-half months to find a mayor. If you accept it tonight, you’ll only have 30 days to do it.”

With that in mind, borough council members agree not to officially accept his resignation while they find a replacement for Miller.

Additionally, Leslie McDermott, who serves as borough secretary, also tendered her resignation at the meeting Monday. She told borough council members she’s still willing to do the financial reports for the borough, but is no longer able to attend meetings as secretary.

Council members approved to accept her resignation and advertise for her position.

Wencker also addressed the issue of a fire services agreement between the borough and the Alexandria Volunteer Fire Co., which still has not been signed. The fire company notified the borough last month they have 90 days to sign an agreement, or they will no longer serve the borough for fire protection.

“I prepared an edited version of the agreement and distributed it to council members and the fire company, but the fire company has sent back a different version of what they approved with an agreement,” said Wencker. “They were some things on ours they amended and some they deleted entirely.

“An an example, our proposal required the fire company to supply the last five years of financial statements, and their agreement has three years,” he added. “For federal and state grants, our proposal wanted the fire company to apply for every state and federal grant available to the fire company, and their agreement said they would provide documentation for every grant for which they would apply.”

Two amendments from the borough on the agreement, including requiring the fire company to obtain three estimates for all purchases or repairs needed and obtain permission from the borough before expending any funds for purchases and obtaining approval from the borough before acquiring any loans, were removed on the amended agreement from the fire company, as per the fire company’s solicitor.

Wencker said having an amendment in the agreement requiring the fire company to obtain three estimates for all purchases and repairs isn’t necessary, as it’s on the fire company to comply with standards, not the borough, as with this agreement, they’re agreeing to fire services, not equipment.

Scott Glass raised an objection to some of the proposed changes by the fire company, said it’s the fire company’s responsibility to tell the borough exactly what they’re spending money on at any given time.

Wencker also further added this agreement is separate from the fire tax, and if tax revenues exceed what is expected, the borough can keep the excess amount, as they’re not obligated to give any amount over what is expected to be generated to the fire company.

Fire chief Tom Weyer said it was discussed at previous workshops there would be a committee formed that consisted of leaders from each municipality served by Alexandria Volunteer Fire Co.

“That’s where you guys can see where everything is going,” he said. “We want you to have input. We’re not asking you to blindly hand over money. We want everyone in the loop, and we want this as transparent as possible.”

In reference to the fire tax, Glass brought up the concerns with the potential for reassessing the value of homes, which could add up to more of a taxpayer burden when factoring in a 1.5-mill fire tax.

“We did agree that if they reassess property values, we would reassess the fire tax as well,” said fire company president Brian Hetrick.

Council members agreed to schedule an executive session meeting for legal issues regarding the fire services agreement, then they also agreed to meet with fire company members to discuss the agreement.

In other business, Judy Scott addressed an issue regarding the flood plain ordinances, as the borough didn’t pass the ones as required by the state and Federal Emergency Management Agency (PEMA and FEMA) last year. Council members recently learned they have until May to deal with the issue, or residents in the borough are in danger of losing their flood insurance from FEMA.

Wencker told council the FEMA representative he was working with about this issue was difficult to work with, but he’s unsure if an engineer can address those issues.

“I know that representative lied to me,” said council president Mike Smith. “I was told initially the rewrite would only involve three municipalities in the county, and now they’re saying it comes back on us.”

M. Smith also noted there’s currently legislation in Congress that would allow citizens to purchase private flood insurance, and the borough hopes that can go through so residents wouldn’t be without flood insurance.