White Mountains Students Join to Help Bees Prosper

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In this time of peril and hope for our global bee population, we can’t help but say that one of our ERC Grand Challenges Network schools is creating quite a buzz! The Spartan STEAM Innovation Academy (SSIA) at White Mountains Regional High School, teaming with the school’s Agricultural Science program, recently was awarded a Whole Foods BEE-cause Grant.   

Things began to hum this past winter, when a White Mountains High School team consisting of plant science and horticulture specialist Rick Grima, SSIA Teacher Leader Melissa Jellison, and science and math specialist Daniel Hubacz joined a bee-keeping workshop at the Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, NH, teaming with White Mountain Apiary and local Beekeeper Janice Mercieri as a Bee Mentor. Beekeeping books, bee-made products, and tools for the hive came from the Savannah Bee Company as a part of the Whole Foods grant through which the program’s students will become co-creators and eventual owners of an on-going project to bring their winged friends to White Mountains Regional High School in New Hampshire’s North Country. Once they have studied where bees are happiest, they will find a permanent and suitable location, measure and clear the land, build the facility, and with their new state-of-the-art bee suits, will activate two new hives to host a bee population provided by the White Mountain Apiary. The goal is to ultimately host 40,000 honey bees. 

Using the Grand Challenges as a framework for exploring past, present, and future challenges to planet Earth, STEAM Innovation Academy students are in hot pursuit of scholarly, experiential ways to understand where bees fit in sustaining our biodiverse planet. See ERC's Grand Challenges Network link here. WMRHS is poised to become the first and only school in New Hampshire to have and keep bees, beginning with a summer work program to maintain the hive when school is out, track bee health and supervise honey production. Grima, who splits duties with SSIA and agriculture sciences, and is one of the Bee program founders told us, “By September we should be in great shape to utilize the hive regularly with students taking over all aspects of the maintenance and monitoring.”

For staff and partners, two chunky Grand Challenge-related learning objectives sit at the heart of all this Bee commotion:

  • Improving understanding of and access to the biology and natural history of the species, their evolutionary and ecological place in global ecosystems, and the processes responsible for population declines and extinction.
  • Developing concepts, theories, tools, and models that contribute directly to halting biodiversity loss, managing species and their habitats, restoring ecosystems, and mitigating threats to the environment.

Scholarly standards such as these are high, but the kids themselves are just raring to get out there and get with the bees. Front office staff and passing teachers get a kick of Grima and his students in bee suits with bright orange "Bee Buckets" as they had out each morning like clockwork. As word spreads, students have already begun to research and develop products at school and in “home food labs” with the beeswax scraped from the first sampling of the frames, including lip balms flavored, so far, with eucalyptus and lemongrass.

As hoped for, curious community helpers are materializing. Geoff Gaddapee, manager of a local hardware store and a beekeeper himself, provides support, hardware and tools and NH Fish and Game biologist Andrew Timmins visits to work with students and monitor bear activity around the hives. Each hive is expected to produce around 300 lbs. of honey every year, so students will suggest unique labels, flyers and develop marketing and advertising plans for honey sales, all of which will underwrite the on-going hive operations. Popular WMRHS Culinary Arts Chef Matt Holland hopes to utilize the homegrown honey in as many recipes as he can.

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Next fall SSIA will kick-off with a survival unit that includes food growing as part of living off the land. The math department will support student team projects revolving on population estimates, calculating population growth in the hive each day, and using scales to track the weight of the hive as the bees build and work inside. Down-the-road plans include working with the local Cooperative Extension and USDA office to create a SSIA Bee-related website, a global resource hub with updated-daily information about local bee keeping, bee projects, bee health and science, explorations of pesticide effect and attempts to rejuvenate bees world-wide. NH Fish and Game could possibly add a link on their site to be managed by SSIA student teams. Although SSIA generally only hosts visitors once a month, staff are arranging for the Lancaster and Whitefield Elementary STEAM programs to visit periodically and work with high school student mentors on several projects across the school year.

All in all, its an exciting time for the Spartan Steam innovation Academy which expanded from its original two-year STEAM-Ahead program, with more students and staff and a range of new learning activities, project teams, inquiry and learning management tools. Principal Michael Berry has been a champion in supporting the effort to create a culture of intense and engaging student learning through greater collaboration among teachers and, with support from ERC, innovative practices in inquiry learning. His motto of more success for more students is increasingly becoming a reality as the school’s reputation grows and continues to attract new, motivated, high-quality professionals to the school.

Keep your eyes and ears open for more news from NH’s newest bee keepers! For more information on the bees and/or SSIA contact jlabounty@sau36.org