Observational beehive installed at Mount Vista school has students abuzz

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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The Gardner School of Arts and Sciences was abuzz with activity Friday, as the school unveiled its new observational beehive.

The school’s 115 students watched in awe as Brian Lacy, who introduces himself as “bee guy,” transferred eight frames from a box of honeybees to a plexiglass-sided hive. The hive, which swings on a hinge so students can look at both sides, was installed in a preschool classroom. A metal tube at the top passes through the school walls and outside — though Lacy noted it will take a while for the bees to start exploring beyond their new hive.

These bees’ journey to the private K-8 school in the Mount Vista neighborhood ended at the same place it began. About a year ago, school leader Jeff Kubiak said a swarm of bees took up residence in a cedar tree on the school grounds.

School staff called Lacy to collect the swarm, and Lacy cared for the bees for a year while the school prepared to install the hive.

Betsy Jager-Lee, the preschool teacher and garden manager whose classroom is now the bees’ home, described the hive as a “magical window.”

“It’s been unifying and exciting,” she said.

The beehive is a natural fit for the school’s curriculum, which predominantly features outdoor learning. The school has a flower and vegetable garden, where students grow fresh food to be used in school lunches and to donate to the Clark County Food Bank. There are also mason bee hives on campus — popular pollinators that don’t sting.

“This fits into our garden, into the community and gives experiential learning,” Kubiak said.

Lacy’s work running Urban Bees and Gardens in North Portland is focused on educating children and adults on keeping and protecting native pollinators. He also collects bee hives that have swarmed and are trying to take up home in spots they don’t belong, like the wall of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in 2013 in downtown Portland.

Lacy said many people don’t understand the significant role pollinators like bees play in our food. The modernization of the food system has distanced people from seeing the impact bees have in pollinating the food we eat, he said.

“Our understanding of what feeds us has been forgotten,” Lacy said.

By observing the bees in the hive and in the school’s garden, Lacy hopes the school’s children will recognize the importance of the buzzing insects.

“This is actually the link between plants and animals,” he said.

Children clad in yellow and black bee hats peered into the hive where worker bees were acclimating to their new home.

Finley Langdon, a 5-year-old preschool student, said he was excited to watch the bees.

“I want to be able to watch them make honey,” Finley said.

Finley’s mom, Carly Langdon, who is also the school’s spokeswoman, notes the hive won’t produce much honey for students to harvest.

Ramona Percich, another 5-year-old preschooler, said her family keeps bees in their backyard. She’s looking forward to see the hive grow.

“They lay eggs, that become little bees,” she said.

The day also featured a slate of bee-themed activities in recognition of Earth Day, including honey tasting, a bee skit and a mini March for Science — a riff on Saturday’s planned series of rallies in Washington, D.C., and across the country in support of the nation’s scientists and researchers.

“Our mission is for kids to develop an awareness … to their connection to the world, and turn that into social action,” Jager-Lee said.