Education

For these Wichita students, lessons from bees are ‘bold and loud’

At this middle school, things are buzzing

Jared Hall shows off the Coleman Middle School's garden club's new bee colony, installed recently with 30,000 bees. (Video by Bo Rader / The Wichita Eagle)
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Jared Hall shows off the Coleman Middle School's garden club's new bee colony, installed recently with 30,000 bees. (Video by Bo Rader / The Wichita Eagle)

There’s a lot middle-schoolers can learn from bees:

Communicate.

Share the load.

Adapt to your surroundings.

And by working together, you can achieve extraordinary things.

“When you’re not being selfish – when you’re being altruistic and just thinking about the benefit of the rest – good things happen,” said Jared Hall, a science teacher at Coleman Middle School.

“Kids are able to look at that and see … we can take back our community by making sure we’re doing the best for our community. And that’s just going to, in turn, help us all.”

Coleman recently became home to the area’s first school-based honeybee hive, thanks to a grant from Whole Foods through its Whole Kids Foundation.

 

Britt Hopper, a local beekeeper (or apiarist, if you prefer the scientific term), installed a hive with about 30,000 honeybees near an exterior wall in Hall’s classroom. A clear acrylic tube allows students to watch the bees move from the hive to the school’s fruit and vegetable garden and back again.

“There’s so many life lessons inside the hive that are so bold and loud,” Hopper said.

“We were told … ‘Never bite the hand that feeds you.’ Well, 80 percent of the world’s pollination is because of the honeybee. It’s the hand that feeds us.”

One recent morning, members of the school’s garden club gathered to water plants and pull weeds. Hundreds of worker bees buzzed out from the hive and back again, tiny yellow pillows of pollen clinging to their hind legs.

Eighty percent of the world’s pollination is because of the honeybee.

Britt Hopper, beekeeper

Bees take flower nectar, break it down into simple sugars and store it in honeycombs. The unique design of the comb, coupled with constant fanning by the bees’ wings, causes evaporation to take place, creating the thick, sweet liquid we know as honey.

“If they come close to you and, like, head-butt you – move,” said eighth-grader Zoe Miller, motioning calmly toward the hive. “This is their landing strip, so they can come in and out.”

Students were wary of the bees at first. So was Jeff Freund, Coleman’s principal.

“I’m not a fan of bees,” Freund said. “Usually they scare the crud out of me.”

After installing the hive, Hopper explained how the bees operate and taught students and teachers some strategies for working around them. So far, no one has gotten stung.

“The first lesson you will learn from the bee is the art of listening,” Hopper said. “If a bee comes up to you and just buzzes, it’s saying, ‘Please move.’ If the bee comes back later and buzzes you and uses its head to head-butt you, it’s no longer pleased. It’s, ‘Move now.’”

Several grants will finance a summer program at Coleman, where Hall and the students will work on the garden and other projects four mornings a week.

As the bees fly, work and reproduce, they’ll also teach students about the life cycle and other scientific concepts, Hall said.

“Going from a larvae to a worker bee, how quickly that is,” he said. “Even just the week it’s been here, the hive has already expanded a pretty good amount.”

Depending how quickly the bees settle in, the hive could produce up to 200 pounds of honey. The students hope to establish partnerships with area businesses, including Churn and Burn, The Donut Whole and Whole Foods, to sell their product.

The hive could produce up to 200 pounds of honey.

Seventh-grader Areli Ruiz said she’s looking forward to that first sweet taste of success. Despite initial reservations, she’s learned to get along with the thousands of new classmates.

“They help our plants stay healthy and grow,” she said. “And then we can have honey, too.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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