Populating pollinators: Bonner school, Ag Hall create bee-friendly curriculum

Program may connect with federal effort to support pollinators

Ray Morgan suited up last spring to help Delaware Ridge Elementary students install bee hives at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame. Morgan serves as both maintenance supervisor and bee educator at the Ag Hall. Enlarge photo

August 20, 2015

A project started by Delaware Ridge Elementary second-graders now may become part of a federal program to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators, via the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame.

“Out of one grade school in the Bonner Springs school system flowered — pun intended — this amazing program that we don’t even know what it will grow into, but it will grow,” said Dawn Gabel, Ag Hall director of operations and development. “It is already something we had not expected.”

The pollinator program originated with second-grade teachers Sarah Kassen, Whitney Szczucinski and Katie Grisell at Delaware Ridge, which teaches its students through the Expeditionary Learning program, in which all educational subjects are incorporated into an “expedition” students work on throughout the year.

Kassen was looking to write an expedition based on science standards on life cycles and habitats. She said she first spoke with a friend who works for area environmental organization Bridging the Gap about doing something on the Emerald Ash Borer, but the discussion evolved into doing something about both trees and honeybees, since the bee population has been diminishing in the United States.

“A lot of kids have the misconception that bees are scary and you should kill them,” Kassen said. “But we wanted them to see that bees are helpful and the connection between bees and pollination and crops.”

Kassen and the teachers wanted to create a beehive and pollinator garden as part of the expedition, but doing so on school grounds wasn’t practical. So they contacted the Wyandotte County Extension Office to talk to Master Gardeners, leading them to certified bee educator Ray Morgan, who also happens to be the maintenance director at the Ag Hall.

Morgan coincidentally was looking to move his personal hives to a new location, so he talked to Gabel and suggested creating an apiary with a few hives similar to a bee-viewing hive at the Turner Community Garden, as well as a pollinator garden surrounding the existing vegetable garden.

So Morgan, the Master Gardeners and students worked together to design the pollinator garden and build two hives, additionally creating the permanent signage for the garden. Kassen wrote the expedition curriculum, which now will serve as a template for a pollinator field trip at the Ag Hall. Gabel said the Ag Hall also plans to incorporate it into day camps the Ag Hall will offer next summer.

In the spring, the students came to the Ag Hall to visit seven educational stations about pollinators as well as Emerald Ash Borers, since the Ag Hall happens to have an ash tree infected by one of the bugs.

Now the Ag Hall has been inspired to further grow the program by encouraging growth of wildflowers on all but 10 of its 160 acres — it didn’t spray to kill clover on its grounds this year. Morgan and another beekeeper plan to locate hives on the Ag Hall grounds, though farther away from the main buildings.

“We can make sure those bees are well-fed, and that allows us to do even more projects,” Gabel said.

She said the Ag Hall already is talking to a high school about making use of the apiary program and would like to facilitate programs with bee-keeper organizations to teach new bee-keepers of all ages.

Gabel said the Ag Hall now is in conversation with the USDA to determine how it might be a part of the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators — all thanks to a school project from Delaware Ridge.

“We are taking what they started and making it bigger,” Gabel said.

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