The buzz at Niskayuna high school’s library

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by Indiana Nash, courtesy of Your Niskayuna

A quiet humming sound now fills one corner of the media center at Niskayuna (NY) High School.  It isn’t coming from students quietly chattering or finishing up last-minute projects.  In a shaded back corner of the media center, at the heart of the buzzing, thousands of honeybees have recently found a home.

Paul Scott, environmental science teacher at the high school first brought the idea to install a beehive display in the school after speaking with a few other teachers from nearby districts who had beehive displays installed in their schools.  “I was at a Master Teachers meeting and a few other teachers were telling me about how they had brought the beehives into their schools and I started to think about how I could incorporate that here,” said Scott.

For a few days after the meeting, Scott said that he just wandered all over the school trying to find a good place where it would be possible to install the hive display.  “One of the first things I did, too, was ask Nancy Hammond, the school nurse, if she thought that this was even possible,” said Scott. After a day or two, Hammond said that since the school isn’t totally peanut-free, then it can’t be completely allergy-free either.

Next, Scott went to librarian Donna McAndrews.  “The only reservation I had about the idea was whether or not the bees would be able to get out,” said McAndrews.  The hive sits in a wooden frame between two panes of laminated safety glass and there is a tube that connects the hive to the outdoors so that the bees can freely leave to pollinate the area.

On top of the hive, which weighs in at around 60 pounds, is a jar of sugar water that the bees can eat during the colder days of summer when they don’t leave the hive as often.  The queen bee is distinguished not only by her greater size but by a small blue dot on her head.

Jack Gribben, a technology teacher at the high school, worked with Scott to build the frame in March.  The two would work in between classes and after school every day, trying to get the frame finished by the time spring break rolled around.

During the break in April, Gribben and Scott worked with the maintenance department to install the hive.  Two students, brothers Clemens and Martino An, helped to install the bees into the hive.  “Ever since I was a young child, I’ve been curious about bees and that curiosity eventually grew into a hobby. During my eighth grade summer, I read an article about Colony Collapse Disorder, which is devastating the bees population. This might not seem important but honey bees pollinate one-third of our crops which plays a huge role in our agriculture. My curiosity for bees, my passion for animals, and the CCD pushed to do more research and eventually purchase a beehive after convincing my apprehensive parents. My parents weren’t really on board with two teenagers working with live bees but after they saw our tenacity they gave in,” Martino said via email.

Since the hive was installed, McAndrews said she was surprised at how often she would find students gathered around the hive, just watching and commenting and all of the action.  “You would be so surprised by the types of students you see over here that get really excited about this. I was standing around it the other day and I heard a student behind me saying, ‘Whoa, did you see that? I think that one is fighting its way out of the comb!’” said Scott. When he turned around to explain what was happening in the hive, Scott was surprised to find a student who had never before shown an interest in science.  “This is not a static place. The phrase ‘busy as a bee’ is an appropriate phrase,” said Scott.

He hopes that the hive will serve as a teaching resource in many classrooms.  It could serve as a great platform for a statistics class, an environmental science class, or even elementary class where young students are just getting started learning about bees and pollination.

The hive display has had a fair number of visitors since its installment, according to McAndrews.  But Scott is striving for more.  Over the summer, the hive will require minimum maintenance. The sugar water jar will have to be replaced and the hive will be checked on frequently, but no work is required beyond that.

Even as the school year draws to a close, the buzz in the library won’t be dying down anytime soon.