BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
MARTIN (May 5) – Martin Middle School is buzzing. Seriously … buzzing.
Thanks to the efforts of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Club bees have a new home at the middle school and are hard at work at what students and organizers hope will become Charger Pride Honey next year.
The bees are located near the one-time greenhouse and Principal John Lifsey says there is plenty of space on the concrete slabs there to expand the number of boxes. This semester the students who usually meet monthly completed frames for collecting the honey and saw those transferred into one box.
“We are working with Westview’s FFA,” he said of the project’s potential to go beyond a one-time event. “And our own science teachers will be able to use the hives when they are talking about pollinators,” he explained.
Plans are also underway to have a “live from the beehive” video feed available on the school website so that classes across the county can witness the bees at work. The camera and the set up for the interactive feed are gifts from Clint Damron, owner of First Response Security, whose staff have worked on establishing the feed.
The STEM Club sponsor is librarian Stephanie Virgin. Lifsey said she asked for the club this year and calls her work with the 26 students “phenomenal.”
“If you walk in the room, you might wonder what is going on,” he acknowledges of her practice of multiple groups working on a variety of tasks simultaneously. “It’s organized chaos. The main thing is to make sure that they are on task, and they are. They are just excited. It’s great and I love going in there.”
In an interview one week after the bees were transferred into their new home, students Madi Adcock, Izaiah Chua, Lena Zimmerman, Olivia Moore, and Corrina Boyd recapped how the project came to be.
Moore pointed out that the club is student-led so the first step was for the group to embrace the idea of working with bees. After focusing on the STEM Fair throughout the fall, they were ready to engage with the Virgin’s suggestion of bees. Zimmerman, whose family has had hives for several years was delighted.
“Lots of people don’t notice bees. They see one and may say, ‘oh there’s a bee on a flower,’” she said and added that often the reaction is to “kill it!”
“But whenever you see the inside of a hive, it’s a much more complicated system than ‘oh there’s a bee on a flower.’ It’s a whole system, a whole society,” she said.
Chua also advocated for choosing the bee project. “There was a small group of kids in STEM Club that wanted to be more in touch with nature and I was a part of that group. I wanted to establish beehives because it’s a way to help society and the ecosystem.”
Traditionally the Club meets monthly on the last Wednesday, but the bee business has required an increase in the frequency of the meetings.
To begin the project, the girls said they started with information gathering. Steve Biggs and other members of the Northwest Tennessee Bee Association provided a presentation, some videos, and other resources including a taste of honey.
Soon, they picked up hammers, nails and wires and built around 20 of the needed frames that are inserted inside the boxes so that bees can make their comb. The box was a gift from Rural King.
Zimmerman, Moore, and Boyd then tilled the soil near where the box is located and planted wildflowers so that the bees would have access.
Next came the return of the beekeepers with protective suits for the students to wear as they watched the professionals put their frames into the hives and transfer the bees.
Chua and Zimmerman were among those donning the suits which they described as lightweight and with screens “you can see through really well.”
The now well-informed bee enthusiasts explained that the Charger Pride Honey will be something they will have to see on visits back from Westview as all, except for 6th grader Adcock, are graduating from MMS.
Even though they won’t see the fruits of their labors this year, they agree the work has produced other sweet rewards.
“I had a lot of fun contributing to things,” Chua said. “I’m not much of a person who would be in big projects like these, but this was actually fun because I got to connect with nature — and I’m not that much of a nature person — but this has really helped me learn more about how precious our world truly is.”
Moore said that having moved to the school this year, the experience translated into a “nice memory, commemorating my first year here.”
Boyd says the work has served to bond friendships, “It’s pretty cool that we could contribute to it because we’ve been doing more stuff together and we have to trust each other.”
Zimmerman, who says she normally doesn’t consider herself a “socializing” type of person, agreed that the relationships formed around the common cause were precious. Plus, she said, “I like hanging out with these friends, and doing projects is fun. It gives me something to do that’s all science-y and nerdy.”
Adcock says as a current sixth grader who will be returning to MMS, she is looking forward to helping the “new STEMs” next year continue with the beekeeping.
Chua says that beyond helping the ecosystem and the school’s economy (sales of the product will go back to MMS) an additional benefit of the bees is that it has been “really anxiety releasing.”
“I attract anxiety like crazy and this has been helping because I get to hammer my feelings out and see all my hard work,” she said, adding, with others agreeing, that it will be satisfying to tell younger students in the future they were a part of the bees’ beginnings
Virgin says her takeaway is that the students experienced something many people never experience in a lifetime, “I believe that this project will impact the student’s attitude towards bees as helpful to nature and not something to always be afraid of with this education. I also feel that this is a positive step toward bee repopulation, which is essential for our farmers and our environment.”