An inside look at Wareham High School’s bee hive

Feb 12, 2020

On a frigid January afternoon, just after the bell has rung at Wareham High School, biology teacher Sean Brown stands over a wooden beehive.

He opens the top, peering inside, and quickly snaps a photo, before shutting it again.

A cluster of bees sits along the edge of a pile of white. It’s not snow in the image, but sugar, a supplementary food.

Brown is hopeful that this hive will survive the winter; it isn’t easy keeping bees alive. 

The hive is the remaining one of two funded by a Makepeace grant four years ago. At the same time, the grant supported the creation of two cranberry bogs that would serve as an outdoor classroom for the middle school. The hope was that the bees would help to pollinate the cranberry bogs as well as serving as a learning resource at the high school.

That grant allowed Brown to purchase not only the hives, but also veils, bee jackets, and a honey extractor, which costs around $800. Now the only major expenses are new bees if the hive dies out and glassware for the honey, which is sold in the school to recoup costs. 

Brown first became interested in beekeeping about five years ago. He took a course through the Plymouth County Beekeepers Association and started his own hive at home. Then, he brought the idea to the school.

Brown explains that there are many ways to incorporate the hive into lessons across several subjects, whether students are learning about hexagons in math or mass in physics. Brown takes his own classes out around twice per year; once to take a look at them and once for honey extraction, usually around late August to early September at the start of the school year. 

”I think they like it!” he says of the students’ reaction to the project, although comfort levels among the students vary. “I give them levels of activity [and] they choose what they’re comfortable with. Some of the kids will help with the frames, some of the kids will just stand [at] a fence about 3 feet away...some kids will be 40 feet back...Some will participate in the extraction, some won’t, but almost everyone will try the honey. A lot of them don’t like it which kind of blows me away.”

Of course, safety is the highest priority. Permission slips are required, and any allergies are noted; students with a bee allergy must have a current epi-pen. They are also not allowed to go into the hive itself. For the most part, the bees seem content to mind their business. “They’re not aggressive, they’re defensive,” says Brown. 

Brown is glad that the community has taken well to the project. He also likes that it’s relatively low-key; teachers can utilize it here and there as they see fit. 

“The goal of it was that...I’d take care of them, but basically teachers could implement lessons using them if they wanted to. It was a kind of no pressure, it didn’t have to be a whole unit, it could just be a lesson.” 

He added that teachers of various subjects have made use of the project.

“The English class, they read The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd….last year, one of the English teachers, Mrs. Santos, we brought her classes out, and she tweeted it, and the author retweeted it. So that was cool recognition,” Brown said.