The bees danced around the heads of the curious students, who were covered head to toe in protective suits.
A few kids were hesitant, while others couldn’t wait to interact with the flying insects and get their first taste of honey made on their school grounds.
About two dozen students in first through fifth grade at the new ShadowGlen Elementary in Manor are founding members of the district’s first beekeeping club. Teacher Amanda Lengnick-Hall, who has overseen beekeeping at two other Central Texas schools, brought the idea with her when she took the job in Manor this year. She has worked with secondary students on beekeeping for the past four years, but this is her first time working with elementary students.
Nine schools in Central Texas, including a handful in the Austin school district, have beekeeping programs.
“Beekeeping isn’t very common, especially in schools, so I like that they push themselves, even if they’re scared,” said Lengnick-Hall. “But once they get into the suits and get closer to the bees and they start learning more about them, they start becoming really protective of them. It’s really exciting to see them go from scared … to being advocates and getting an opportunity to try something they probably haven’t thought they wanted to try.”
Three of her former students now are home beekeepers, and another is studying entomology at Texas A&M University.
The ShadowGlen students first studied the bees in an observation hive, which is similar to an aquarium. Lengnick-Hall has been teaching them about pollination and the colony collapse disorder that causes worker bees to abandon the hive, leaving the queen behind.
On a recent sunny afternoon, after five weeks of preparation, the students donned red or white beekeeping suits for the first time to see the hives. They were rewarded: The bees had made honey.
“We got to pet the bees, and I got to have honey!” said Aubrey Roberts, a third-grader, as she gently touched a bee resting on her gloved hand.
The students will bottle the honey and sell it on campus, using the money to support their beekeeping program.
Bee expert Walter Schumacher, of the Central Texas Bee Rescue and American Honey Bee Protection Agency, volunteers with the students, teaching them the do’s and don’ts (including warning the students that swift, exaggerated movements make the bees angry).
“This whole thing is experiential learning where they work with the bees,” Schumacher said. “In the beginning, they were apprehensive. ‘Bees sting you; bees hurt you.’ But now we have more kids wanting to volunteer with the program than not.”
The students who work with the bees must have parental permission.
“I like working with the bees,” said Rafaela Rohdis, a fifth-grader. “It’s interesting, and you learn something. I was never scared of them because I knew we were going to have suits on.”