With the launch event of Lester Laminack's The King of Bees last month, we had the amazing opportunity to interact with the Fernbank Science Center's beekeepers. After asking them all our questions and learning so much about the bee population and how people can support bees in the classroom, we wanted to share everything we had discovered. Kyla Van Deusen, instructional specialist and Fernbank Science Center beekeeper, offered to delve into the world of bees and provide her insights into how schools can support the bee population.
the European honeybee, was introduced to the Americas in the 17th
century by European colonists. Honeybees
contribute 15 billion dollars annually to the US economy, mainly through their
pollination services, which is critical to fruit and vegetable production. The sharp decline in their population in
recent years inspired a federal Pollinator Health Task Force
in 2014 that sounded the alarm across the
country on the plight of honeybees and other pollinating insects.
Now recognized as a national issue with major economic
implications in the agriculture sector, children and teachers have been
inspired to do their part to support pollinator health in the schoolyard
setting. From planting pollinator
gardens to maintaining their own beehives, schools can contribute to both honeybees and native pollinator health in meaningful ways that also teach core content
across curricular disciplines.
Schools have a long, rich history of using gardens as
outdoor classrooms. In the garden,
students learn life cycles, soil science, water cycling, seasons, habitats,
teamwork, nutrition, history, and more. Pollinator gardens can be easy to maintain and provide opportunity not
only to learn, but also improve habitat for pollinators. It is important to remember that native bees
pollination services, sometimes better than the European honeybee. Designing a garden to support needs of native
bee species makes for a great hands-on learning experience. The following resources can help schools
design and implement a pollinator garden.
planting guides from Pollinator Partnership: Select the best plants for
your region. Many states have native
plant societies that can help locate plant material. Remember that garden centers often sell
plants treated with neonicotinoid
pesticides, which are suspected to be poisonous to bees, so make sure to
source neonic-free plants. Not all
neonic-treated plants are labelled as such.
- Pollinator garden planning lesson plan from KidsGardening.org
Start a beehive
Although bee-friendly gardening is the easiest and most
sustainable way to support bee populations in the schoolyard, caring for bees
can be an incredible experience for students, especially if supported by the
skills and wisdom of local beekeepers. However,
with the amount of stressors impacting the European honeybee population at this
moment in time—increased disease, residential and agricultural pesticides, and
habitat destruction—even the most experienced beekeepers are struggling to
maintain their hives. In spite of these
challenges, schoolyard beekeeping is increasing in popularity and there are
several resources available to help schools get started. Remember to check with your school liability
officer to ensure that beehives remain in compliance with liability code. Also keep in mind that both Beepods and
observation hives tend to be short lived due to the high stress placed on bees
in these environments and the tendency to swarm more frequently.
Native pollinator resources
Citizen science projects allow citizens to add data to national
and international research projects and access data for class projects. The following citizen science project provides meaningful ways for students to participate in tracking pollinator
health beyond the school grounds.
With Next Generation Science Standards driving science
education to a more inquiry-driven approach, gardening and beekeeping make
great projects that align with evolving science standards.
Complex environmental problems like pollinator population
decline can feel overwhelming to the point of apathy, but by learning about the
problem and implementing local solutions, students can lead the way toward a
better outcome both for the bees and their own education. Teachers can support their students’
successful bee projects through connecting to local partners. Look for beekeeping clubs, native plant
societies, school garden support organizations, and passionate parents in your
community who want to help your students help the bees. All the work will pay off when you see your
students light up as they discover how they can have a positive impact on
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