Face Time: Teachers Maggie Corlett and Lacey Todd – sound excited about beekeeping

Maggie Corlett and Lacey Todd stand behind an observation hive full of honey bees by Al Borzelli of Happy Hive Farm in Sumner. This is the same hive and bees that the Western Maine Beekeepers Association displays at the Farmington Fair. Submitted photo

Teachers Maggie Corlett and Lacey Todd lead beekeeping classes for students at Meroby Elementary School and Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico and plan to build an apiary on school grounds this spring. The schools received a $100,000 grant from the Maine Department of Education for the bee project, and the plan is to eventually enroll all schools in RSU District 10 from the Mountain Valley region into the beekeeping project.

How will beekeeping and apiary care benefit students? What will beekeeping teach students?

Our student population struggles with high rates of trauma and ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). We see students struggling with chronic absenteeism, negative behaviors and poor mental health. Beekeeping has been shown to improve well-being after traumatic events. We have observed that outdoor learning has greatly improved our students’ engagement in learning, and we believe that beekeeping will directly benefit our students at school by providing them with an authentic and engaging learning opportunity, a hands-on element to their instruction, and engagement with them. (as a child) a society in which they can be legal partners. Our program, MVBees, will teach students self-regulation, responsibility, empathy, economics, and other life skills like beekeeping.

We chose MVBees as our name because MV is an abbreviation for Mountain Valley, but it’s also a play on MVP. . . “Most Valuable Player” is replaced by “Most Valuable Bees” and also “Mountain Valley Bees” because this project involves not just one school, but the entire Mountain Valley region.

What will your program cover?

MVBees will begin with 4th and 5th graders at Meroby Elementary and Mountain Valley Middle School. They will learn all about bees, pollination, ecology, small business creation and beekeeping. From there, they will prepare presentations and teach other grade levels in their schools. They will place the bees in the hives and grow our apiary. Students from both schools will have the opportunity to create art and other items for sale on a student-created website, working together toward a common mission.

During the summer, we will offer the MVBee Academy for youth so that students can learn about beekeeping while meeting the hive’s summer needs. Soon we will begin enrolling Rumford Elementary School students in the MVBees program. When the new school is built, all the K-8 students will come together and we will have a common project that we work on together.

How will the community be involved in beekeeping and the beekeeping process? How will the Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico participate in your schools beekeeping project?

We look forward to providing a way for the community to purchase honey, student-made items, and queen bees to financially support our program. At this point, we expect that more opportunities for public participation will present themselves as the ideas come to fruition, and we look forward to seeing that participation grow.

The Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico will be a key player in helping us build our apiary. We’re still in the design and planning stages, but it looks like Region 9 students will be building some sheds for us, clearing and leveling the land, and helping us connect with others who can help where they can’t. We are excited that RSU 10 students will play such a large role in this program. This will be a beekeeping app for students built by students!

How has the Western Maine Beekeepers Association supported your project efforts to date, and in what ways will the group continue to work with you and your students?

Western Maine Beekeepers Association Region 9 is the local MSBA (Maine State Beekeepers Association) chapter that teaches an annual beekeeping school through the Adult Ed program. Their eight-week school runs from late January to mid-March. They will learn beekeeping skills with us not only in a supporting role, but also by working directly with classes in the apiary. Our students have been invited to add to the WMBA bee school lessons by providing general information for bee school participants. Some members donated items to help start a student-run business.

Our apiary will host two hives of the WMBA club. Each month, May through November, the WMBA meets to host an Open Hive, where club members come to learn the elements of beekeeping in a hands-on, applicable way. The club will hold those Open Hives at our apiary located a short distance from the District 9 school.

Each year the WMBA hosts a bee booth at the Farmington Fair. If the Farmington Fair hosts a Youth White Day next year, the 5th graders will have the opportunity to work with club members to teach other students in the area about beekeeping.

What is your experience with beekeeping? Worried about getting stung?

Lacey: I am new to beekeeping, but I have always enjoyed learning about bees, their roles in the hive, communication methods, honey making and brood care processes. I can’t wait to learn more about beekeeping at the Region 9 Bee School this winter! I’m not worried about being stung because I know honey bees don’t want to sting people. Plus, there are techniques to help calm the bees AND we will use protective gear when working with the bees.

Maggie: I was introduced to beekeeping 5 years ago through the WMBA bee school. Since then I have been learning to keep bees in Maine. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and I’m always interested in having more and more interesting things to learn about beekeeping. Beekeepers never learn and I love that. While stings are an inevitable occurrence when working with bees, there are many things you can do to minimize the occurrence. Honey bees die when they sting (unlike bees). Since they want to survive and are only focused on their work in the hive, they won’t want to sting me unless I pose a threat. Their main purpose is to raise young, make honey and feed. If I’m not a threat to their attention, they don’t really pay attention to me. We will make sure our students are provided with all the necessary safety equipment to protect them from stings.

What products will the students sell on your planned beekeeping website?

Students will harvest, extract and bottle honey to sell. They will also be selling simple beeswax handmade items such as lip balm and candles.

Probably the most interesting thing for students to sell is the queen bees. Hives can produce their own queens, but sometimes a hive is queenless. This can be solved by buying a new queen bee and introducing it into the hive. Beekeepers in the area will benefit from having a local source for queen bees, and students are happy to have a legitimate community need they can meet.

Bees have been disappearing from our environment in recent years. What are some reasons for their disappearance?

Bees are struggling to survive for two main reasons: Climate change and virus-carrying mites. One of the important reasons why bee schools and beekeeping instruction are so important to responsible beekeeping is that beekeeping best practices have changed over the past few years. Beekeepers learn to manage the mite loads in their hives instead of leaving them to fend for themselves, often with disastrous results. Just as dog owners need to control fleas and ticks, so do beekeepers. Mites attach to bee larvae and infect them with viruses. These viruses are passed from hive to hive, weakening them too much to survive our Maine winters. Beekeepers need to know how big the mite load is in the hive and how to treat the hive for mites. These are some of the interesting and exciting things our students will learn in our MVBee program.

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