Heathwood Hall’s new bee hive has students abuzz with learning (+video)

If there’s a Columbia school with no shortage of natural resources, Heathwood Hall is arguably the one. And now, in addition to numerous habitats available for studying on Heathwood’s vast 100-plus-acre campus, a new habitat is abuzz in the school’s library.

Kids now swarm to check out the school’s recently added 4,000-honeybee hive behind glass, the first project of its kind in Columbia, thanks to the Bee Cause Project.

The Bee Cause Project is a nonprofit that aims to stimulate curiosity and educate schools and communities about the importance of bees. Heathwood’s hive is the 42nd out of a goal of 1,000 hives to be placed in schools across the region. Each school that participates in the program also does fundraisers, selling honey and other products, to help put hives in more schools.

“I do think it is good for the kids to understand the role of bees in our environment,” said Michele Kingery, a certified S.C. beekeeper who teaches creative writing for middle schoolers at Heathwood.

The busy bees already have multiplied to about 4,000 from 2,000 since the hive’s unveiling two weeks ago.

The project has brought a new learning angle to the school’s lower grades, which spend a lot of time studying habitats on campus.

When they come to the library for their weekly book check-out time, the kids flock to the hive, where they press their faces close to the glass to hunt for the green-spotted queen bee or to watch the drones work busily.

When 7-year-old Ginger Barker first saw the bees, she thought “they were cool and that I would like them in the library,” she said.

The hive has a tunnel in the corner that allows the bees to fly in and out from the hive to Heathwood’s sprawling outdoor campus where, as the students have learned, the bees have to pollinate some 5,000 flowers to produce just one teaspoon of honey.

Earlier this week, 7-year-old Arthur Gonzales was one of the first in his class to hover at the hive. He proudly announced to librarian Jennifer Falvey that he had spotted a bee with pollen legs.

He and other students excitedly spouted facts they had learned about bees over the past few weeks, including that bees need nectar and pollen to feed their babies, that bees will only stay in a hive if they have a queen, and that they do a special “bee dance” to help one another travel from the hive to plants with good pollen.

The children’s guesses of how many bees are in the hive ranged from 200 to 9,000 to “two thousand hundred” – or “one billion jillion” and even infinity, for those able to count so high.

But the kids still have plenty left to learn about bees, too.

“How come when Davis got stinged he didn’t ... pass?” one child asked in a library session this week.

His classmates were quick to pipe up: “No, bees die. We don’t die.” “But a bunch of bees can kill you. And then they die.”

That kind of curiosity is just what Heathwood’s educators are hoping to encourage with the hive.

“We are trying to inspire dispositions of just innate curiosity,” said Molly Roddey, an early childhood program leader who helped bring the Bee Cause Project to Heathwood. “We want them to be curious about things that will impact them forever, so it’s just a good hands-on experience.”

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.