CENTRAL POINT — A student-led Bee Expo at Jewett Elementary was perhaps the best way to learn about the importance of pollinators while finding an ample excuse to “bee” outside the classroom enjoying the warm spring air.
Longtime fifth-grade teacher Kim Elmer, typically as enthusiastic as — or maybe more than — the students, led a group chat on the life cycle and importance of bees to the planet.
Elmer’s fifth-graders helped set up and facilitate the event earlier this month, which included a main presentation area and a trio of pollinator-related learning stations in the outdoor classroom space.
Students made colorful antenna-style hats that declared “Save the Bees!” and learned a “bee cheer” in addition to mastering the anatomy of bees and designing bee buddies that resembled yellow Minions with shiny silver and gold antennae.
Taking her task seriously, Elmer, a beekeeper for three years after completing coursework at the University of Montana and an active member of Southern Oregon Beekeepers, was decked out in a beekeeper’s hat to complement her flower-and-bee printed dress.
A big fan of hands-on learning, Elmer had her assortment of beekeeping gear, educational posters and even a closed hive for the more than 130 kindergarten and first grade students to observe.
Elmer plans to utilize her beekeeping skills and hives she helps set up as part of the district’s new makers’ lab and to facilitate information displays at area Grange Co-Ops next year. The Bee Expo’s focus, however, was to stress the importance of bees.
Students learned that baby bees are lighter in color and have soft fuzzy hair and that queens are responsible for laying all the eggs to create a colony of bees.
“Like when you all were born, your hair can be a different color and then it can change,” Elmer explained.
“How many of you have ever seen a baby kitty or a puppy and know how super-duper soft they are?”
Students hung on Elmer’s every word, eager to inspect the live bees and find out about Elmer’s work with bees or to try on her beekeeper hat. Elmer relayed to students to respect bees for their role in sustaining the planet’s food supply, that bees work together to protect the hive from predators and how exterminators seek beekeepers to help with swarms.
“When there’s a swarm, the beekeepers come out to rescue the swarming bees,” Elmer said.
Kindergarten teacher Carly Corbett was excited for students to be learning in the outdoor setting.
“We’ve been learning all about bees in our classroom, so this was a great event and I’ve been impressed with the questions they’ve been asking,” Corbett said.
“In kindergarten we study helpful insects and we focus on bees. Kim has always been an amazing resource, but this is the first time we’ve done something like this. Miss Elmer and I are buddy classes and our fifth-graders are such great mentors.”
Abigail McCalip took her job seriously at Station 3 as she demonstrated how to diagram the body parts on a giant bee poster. The 11-year-old was excited to work with the kindergarten and first-grade groups and to dispel myths about bees being scary.
“A lot of people think they’re scary or icky or that they want to sting you. They don’t want to sting you and if you think about all the things bees do for us, it matters a lot for us to protect them,” she said.
“Bees help us so much it’s important for people to realize we have to help them be able to survive. If the bees suddenly weren’t here, a lot of our food sources would be gone, so the more we help bees and the more we learn about them, the better it will be for our community and our planet.”
Kindergartner Emma Foreman focused on an especially important aspect of bees and how much work the queens are made to do, often laying “more than a thousand” eggs each day.
“If the old queen moves out, then they have to get a new queen because she’s really important,” said the 6-year-old.
Six-year-old Chase Hartwig chuckled at a little known bee fact — female bees sting, while male bees do not.
“Hahaha the girl bees are aggressive and the boys are just really cool!”
Elmer said the focus of her teaching on the subject is on the value of bees.
“They know that if we’re nice to bees, they’ll make us honey, but they’re also learning that bees are really important for the planet. It’s these young kids who will make changes. This is where we plant the seeds.”
Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.