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A Natural Connection: Honey from School Beehives Supports STEM Education

May 15, 2023
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Fourth graders Paisley Smith and Elijah Addis check on beehive activity at James M. Brown Elementary. They are students in a STEM class taught by Courtney Sheriff, a graduate of the Anderson University College of Education.

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It’s been true pretty much since life on this planet began—if it weren’t for bees, much of what we eat wouldn’t exist. That’s the lesson Courtney Sheriff teaches STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students at James M. Brown Elementary School in Walhalla, South Carolina. 

Sheriff, who graduated from Anderson University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, inspires her students to appreciate how bees are important to our environment. She feels that her school’s beehives provide amazing learning opportunities and she wants to involve her students in every aspect of beekeeping. 

James M. Brown Elementary received STEM funding for the hives from the Bee Cause Project, and additional grants have helped them buy beekeeping outfits to enable students to safely observe bee activity up close. The outfits provide full protection, including multilayered gloves that protect hands while working with the hives.

“Paisley and Elijah are our first two to actually get into the hives,” Sheriff said, adding that obtaining permission for students to get into a hive with 20,000 bees involves lots of red tape.

“It’s been a long process just to get everything approved. Our school district and our principals here are all big supporters of hands-on learning and this is just the beginning of getting our students into the hives,” Sheriff said. “Our biggest priority is getting them in the hives and keeping everyone safe.”

Grant funding has also helped the school purchase accessories for working with the hives, including funding from the Whole Kids Foundation, a partnership with the Whole Foods organization; and Bee Cause, a nonprofit organization that places in schools observation hives, glass-enclosed hives that let students safely see bees at work.

“We have five honeybee hives here at James M. Brown,” Sheriff said. “We had three, but whenever I received this last grant of $2,500, we were able to buy two more honeybee hives.”

Everything related to beekeeping at James M. Brown Elementary ties right back into STEM learning.

“Our students designed a honeybee label on Google Drawings. They had to include the school name, colors and different things like that,” Sheriff said. “We narrowed it down to one honeybee label per fourth-grade class, then the whole school voted on their favorite. Then our winning label was then ordered and placed on all of our honeybee jars. We sold 35 gallons of honey to the public at a local market in downtown Walhalla.” 

Sheriff said proceeds from the honey sales went to buying two 3D printers for James M. Brown Elementary’s STEM lab. 

“My goal with the bees is to get our students more involved in them. We had the observation hive, but seeing it under glass and then seeing it physically inside of the hive is a totally different experience for the kids and really brings the learning to a whole new level for them—and being able to get our kids involved in all of the different areas from designing the honeybee label to harvesting the honey. 

According to Sheriff, beekeeping utilizes a variety of skill sets that students possess. Sometimes when we buy furniture, assembly is required—the same is true with beehives. STEM assistant Elijah Addis has built several honeybee boxes and honeybee hive frames.

Beekeeping at James M. Brown Elementary has attracted television coverage from Fox Carolina News and the South Carolina Educational Television program “Making it Grow.”

Sheriff said that beekeeping is a wonderful life skill for students to learn. She commented, “Being able to learn that at the elementary level, just imagine what they can do in the future.”

The Anderson University College of Education

The Anderson University College of Education ​​focuses on the intellectual development of the student, while being attentive to the ideals of character, servant leadership and cultural engagement. Programs are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, onsite or online. Details can be found here.


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