Comox school is abuzz about its bee project

Mea Williams and Maddison Maas point to the cocoons in the bee homes. Photo, SD71Mea Williams and Maddison Maas point to the cocoons in the bee homes. Photo, SD71
Students Gabrielle St-Pierre, Scarlett Kunz and Lukas Leikermoser show the homes the Grade 6/7 class built for mason bees. Photo, SD71Students Gabrielle St-Pierre, Scarlett Kunz and Lukas Leikermoser show the homes the Grade 6/7 class built for mason bees. Photo, SD71
Grade 4 teacher Katie Leith-Mills and students Jovie Kurylo, Mea Williams and Maddison Maas work on the plant boxes to provide bee food. Photo, SD71Grade 4 teacher Katie Leith-Mills and students Jovie Kurylo, Mea Williams and Maddison Maas work on the plant boxes to provide bee food. Photo, SD71
The mason bee project is part of École Robb-Road’s Outdoor Classroom. Photo, SD71The mason bee project is part of École Robb-Road’s Outdoor Classroom. Photo, SD71

Some Comox Valley students are getting an education about bees — and helping provide them a home in the process.

École Robb Road students in Katie Leith-Mill’s Grade 4 class and Caroline Letourneau’s Grade 6/7 class have been working on projects connected with the school garden to help mason bees, which are like super-pollinators even when compared with other bees.

The Comox school is one of a few in the district working on mason bee projects. One of the things the students are doing is providing some food for the bees in the form of plants growing in wooden planter boxes.

“It’s like a pollinator blend for the bees,” says Leith-Mills.

The younger kids’ projects include making cocoons, which are kept in the fridge, while the older kids have been working on building homes for the bees. The older students of also made a mural of the bees in the school hallway.

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In doing hands-on projects with schools — for example, getting kids to understand tools — the school district was looking for a project that had impact for the students. Dawn Anderson, a career coordinator with the school district, organizes the program and was working with Serina Allison, the environment and outdoor education district lead teacher, who was working on the school garden project.

“Let’s get students learning about full ecosystems,” says Anderson.

Some school gardens were not ready, though as Anderson says, these are needed to provide food for the bees.

“We need to make sure that if we bring in bees, there’s food for them…. If there’s no food, they move or they die.”

Beyond the educational opportunities for the kids to see how the bees live and spread pollen, the project has a conservation angle.

“We are down 50 per cent of our bee population,” Anderson says. “How do we bring these things back?”

Unlike some bees, the mason bees do not produce honey, but focus their energy on producing other bees, while helping to pollinate plants. They are extremely prolific at spreading pollen, even though they are only around a short time. They also have an another attribute that is ideal when it comes to people — they are not aggressive.

For the projects, the students work on little straws to serve as cocoons, while the homes for the bees are like little A-frame houses to serve as a hive. Some of the homes are in the school garden or in nearby trees.

The school researched the project and started work before spring break. This included learning about different types of bees, the importance of seasons and how to take care of bee habitat. They also put together a presentation for the younger students about bees.

“We all knew there were different types,” says student Gabrielle St-Pierre.

Another topic was the vulnerability of the bees and threats to their health.

“You have to watch out if they have any parasites,” says classmate Scarlett Kunz.

Some of the kids even made bee houses for their yards at home.

The students say one of the best things about the project was learning how bees, especially mason bees, help people. For some of the students, the experience was completely new, while others are familiar with the creatures.

“My grandpa is a beekeeper, so I usually help him,” says student Lukas Leikermoser.

For this year, there are seven schools and nine teachers in the district taking part in bee projects.

“It was a good little project,” says Anderson. “We’ll do it again next year.”



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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School District 71