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RRR: School’s out but Dowling Elementary is still buzzing

Posted on 01 July 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Students, community members learn about beekeeping from Pollinate Minnesota

Tracy Young, Dowling Elementary School environmental education teacher, visits the school apiary. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The students at Dowling Elementary School are done for the year, but 60,000 or so honeybees in their school yard apiary are gearing up for a busy summer.
Through a partnership with the non-profit organization Pollinate Minnesota, Dowling received two bee boxes last year – each houses one queen honeybee, enough males to ensure reproduction, and tens of thousands of hard working female worker bees. The bee boxes were placed on school property adjacent to the Dowling Community Gardens: home to 200+ community garden plots, which offer up a smorgasbord of flowering plants for the bees to feed on.
The hives have provided a living, outdoor classroom for students from the K-5 environmental magnet school since their arrival late last summer. Environmental education specialist Tracy Young and ELL teacher Jeff Johnson started thinking about having an apiary at their school a couple of years ago. They reached out to Erin Rupp, founder of Pollinate Minnesota, and were able to bring their idea to fruition.
Pollinate Minnesota is an education and advocacy organization working toward a better co-existence of pollinators and people. They offer safe, immersive experiences with honeybees for learners of all ages. As an educational organization, they teach over 100 programs a year, mostly to K-12 youth, and partner with organizations like Dowling to install and maintain their apiaries.
Tracy Young explained, “Our students have been able to interact with bees in many different ways. With the younger children, we use a combination of stories, puppets, and play activities to help them understand the different jobs that bees do – both in and around the hive. Some of our best experiences have been just sitting and watching the bees go about their business. The K-2 students are invited to approach the fenced-in apiary, but don’t go inside the 6’ tall, chain-link enclosure. Starting in third grade, students get to work with the bees up-close, wearing bee suits and other protective clothing.”
She continued, “Honeybees aren’t aggressive, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t afraid of them. There were a few children who were scared in the beginning, but once they learned about the honeybees and how they worked together – their fear went away.”
One of Young’s most successful teaching tools this year was a series of bee puppets she made with cardboard and donated chop sticks. The younger students took the puppets outside and “collected” pollen from apple trees while they were blooming. They learned about bee anatomy, bee behavior, how flowers are pollinated, and why it matters.
Pollinate Minnesota will be hosting a community bee-keeping class at the Dowling Apiary later this summer. Look for updates at www.pollinatemn.org in the next few weeks. For more information on forming a pollinator partnership, contact Erin Rupp at erin@pollinatemn.org.

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