17 Aug 2017 Story Resource efficiency

Students drive learning on the importance of bees, create bee habitat

The first honeybee visited the kids’ bee habitat within 10 minutes of the last plant being placed in the ground.

The result of days of hard work by a team of students, the habitat for wild bees came about as a compromise.

“We dreamed about having our own hive of honeybees, but time and permits just wouldn’t have allowed it,” explains Erin Angel, an instructor with the Cottonwood Institute Colorado, U.S.A., on behalf of the students.

Participants in Cottonwood Institute programs for underserved middle- and high-school students are expected to go beyond discussing environmental and resource management issues: they must create a student-led Action Project addressing an issue they care about, as a team. They are then expected to work with local organisations to execute it. 

In this case, the students started by inviting local beekeepers and bee activists to talk to them. They arranged to bring in a hive and felt its warmth and vibration as they observed the bees through the screen, watched videos and read books.


How do you get this level of commitment from a whole class of students? Make sure they are fighting for something they are passionate about, and make taking meaningful action the central point of an activity, says Erin.

The students came to the consensus that making a habitat for wild bees in an interpretive bee garden would be a great way to help raise awareness and fight colony collapse at the same time.

They designed a garden, arranged for plants to be donated, built mason bee houses, planted flowers, and dug through hard Colorado clay. They added interpretive plaques explaining the importance of bees and what people could do to help them. That’s when the little first little honeybee arrived to check the place out— an early sign of success.

“They had the opportunity to solve a problem during the program, which was helping to save the bees by explaining to people that bees are dying slowly and that neonicotinoids, which are a systemic agricultural insecticide resembling nicotine, are bad for bees that pollinate the flowers,” Erin sums up.

The Cottonwood Institute was started by Ford Church, 27 years old at the time, and was the culminating project of his master’s thesis in 2003. It was born of his passion for the outdoors and the environment, the desire to inspire youths and give back to the community.

The Institute keeps in touch with its alumni, who range in age from 10 to 28 years old, and are encouraged to participate or volunteer in future programmes.

“Last fall, former student, instructor and donor Eric Ellison joined our Board of Directors!” Church said, adding that it was rewarding to see the Institute’s efforts come full circle.

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