This article originally appeared in the winter 2015 Harker Quarterly. Access the full issue, with live links, at Harker’s issuu.com page: http://issuu.com/theharkerschool/docs/harker_quarterly_winter_2015.
The students at Harker Preschool have long had a sweet spot for bees. But now they are buzzing with excitement over becoming the first local preschool to receive a grant from the Planet Bee Foundation’s “Humble Honey Bee Project,” which awarded them a daylong workshop.
Held on the Union campus in the fall, the hands-on presentation was part of a larger effort sponsored by Whole Foods Market stores throughout Northern California, which partnered with Planet Bee to bring educational workshops to schools and nonprofits.
“Change the world, one bee at a time” is the motto of Planet Bee, a self-described “trailblazing nonprofit with a mighty green mission.” The foundation brought its unique program to the preschool, thanks to the grant awarded to Harker’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) specialist, Robyn Stone.
“Our preschool students are wild about bees! Over the summer I submitted an application to the Planet Bee Foundation for Harker Preschool to participate in the program, and we were selected as a participating school!” recalled Stone, who is also a science/math instructor for the University of California, Santa Cruz Extension.
On Oct. 13, the entire preschool was treated to the bee presentation, which took place in the outdoor amphitheater with fun activities spilling over to the adjacent grassy field. The program included a variety of games as well as an observation of a live beehive (encased in Plexiglas).
Each session focused on honeybee biology. “When children have a deeper understanding of how bees help pollinate the plants that make our food, they may become strong stewards of the environment as they grow up,” Stone explained.
“I really liked learning all about bees and how honey is made!” enthused Heidi Singh, a 3-year-old student in the preschool’s Acorn Cottage. She and her pals were busy as bees during the presentation, taking in all the activities, becoming increasingly engaged in what they later learned was called melittology (the study of honeybees).
Planet Bee Foundation offers on-site, hands-on workshops to schools, nonprofits, local communities, backyard beekeepers and corporations. It also conducts fundraising benefits and offers an Adopt-A-Hive Program.
“These programs are created for deep experiential learning that leaves students inspired. Our Bee Basics curriculum is in line with the Common Core Standards and focuses on the honey bee, pollination, colony collapse disorder, and providing tools for students to help make a difference,” said Debra Tomaszewski, the foundation’s co-founder and executive director.
Tomaszewski is a former public school teacher, college professor and curriculum writer. Her husband, William Tomaszewski, is the foundation’s co-founder and head beekeeper. He’s kept hives personally for more than 15 years.
“Harker Preschool is our youngest audience ever!” enthused Kayla Friedrichsen, program director for the Planet Bee Foundation. She reported that all of the foundation’s lessons consist of an age-appropriate presentation, observation hive for an up-close look at live bees, beekeeping equipment for handling and trying on, honeycomb and wax for students to inspect, and magnified insect boxes or microscopes to check out bees.
The organization is currently slated to visit 86 schools over the next two years. More than 800 students have already participated in the program so far this year. Friedrichsen shared how impressed she was at the interest the students at Harker Preschool took in learning about bees.
She taught the children that a third of every bite they take is made possible by bees and that bees – especially honeybees – are vital pollinators in bringing food to our plates. “But colony collapse disorder and other environmental factors are causing honeybee populations to plummet at an alarming rate; their numbers have declined by the billions since 2006.”
In addition to the Planet Bee visit, the students were delighted to welcome another “bee visit,” this time from Harker Preschool parent and amateur beekeeper Darryl Walker (father of 3-year-old Abby, also in Acorn Cottage).
“He extended our learning by visiting classes with his beekeeping gear (suit, mask and smoker) to talk about how he collects honey from his backyard hive. He also donated a huge jar of his honey to the STEM lab for all the children to taste!” said Stone.
Stone noted that bee study is not just con ned to special visits but is a natural part of the students’ school day, thanks to a native species garden that attracts honeybees (as well as a variety of wild indigenous bees, hummingbirds and local insects).
“By working with the facilities groundskeepers, we’ve eliminated the need for using pesticides to control weeds in our school gardens. We just pull them while we’re outside at play. Being playful and curious go hand-in-hand, making science concepts accessible to young children,” said Stone.
Prior to the preschool’s opening in 2013, Stone and Mike Bassoni, Harker’s facility manager, had discussed pulling out the plants in the garden in front of the STEM lab and replacing them with native perennials. After clearing the garden bed, parent volunteers helped with the planting and the children got in on the action by assisting with sowing seeds.
Last spring, the students observed at least ve different types of wild bees along with myriad butter ies in the garden. “The children walk through the wild owers, they make careful observations, they notice the relationship between ower and animal. And they pretend to be bees, butterflies and hummingbirds,” shared Stone.
In addition to attracting native pollinators and providing food for them, the STEM lab’s native garden uses very little water. And, because it attracts insects, the garden also has become home to native birds that feed on the insects. Stone installed a bird watching station out tted with binoculars so the children are able to observe them.
Stone became so inspired by her work on honeybees with the preschool classes that she recently published an article called “Bee Curious” in the summer 2015 issue of Green Teacher, a journal offering perspectives on the role of education in creating a sustainable future. She and her STEM pupils were also featured in a Harker video called “The Buzz on Bees: A Preschool STEM Lesson on Honeybees.”
Bassoni reported that he became intrigued with assisting Stone in developing the learning garden once he understood her true passion for providing a firsthand outdoor experience to her students. “Her world of bees, pollen, hummingbirds and caterpillars is extremely important. If we can create one small corner of the urban planet that promotes the wellness of our little pollinators, then we have achieved our goal,” he said.