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.
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.
Plant a garden
- Ecoregional 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
- Nests for Native Bees from Xerxes Society
- Compilation of pollinator citizen science projects from Xerxes Society
- Information for Schools from the Xerxes Society
- Honeybee curriculum from the Bee Cause
- Project Hero Pollination Quest from Captain Planet Foundation
- Bee Books for Children from the Honeybee Conservancy
Creating bee-friendly schools
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 their world.