Lessons from bees


Bees and children normally have a volatile relationship.

The fear of being stung and the increasing number of children with allergic reactions tends to create a unsympathetic environment for the humble bee.

But one East Auckland school is going against the tide of fear by having bees on the school grounds.

When Mt Wellington beekeeper Sara Russ’ hives were evicted from a site in Onehunga after a neighbour complained, she asked her daughter’s school if they would take in the homeless bees.

And eventually some of her hives arrived at Riverhills School in Pakuranga.

Mrs Russ is on a mission to remove the all-consuming fear that many New Zealanders have of the simple bee.

“It is just a sting, kids might trip up and graze their knee too,” she says.

“Most people are not allergic to bees, everybody will react to a bee sting – it is venom. You are going to swell up, it is going to be itchy but it will go in a few days.”

She says people need to realise that the bee actually needs to be protected instead of loathed.

“People need to make the connection of ‘yes, we need the bees which means we need to know how to behave with the bees and to respect them’ ” – a philosophy which is taking flight at Riverhills School.

“The bees being there is such a beacon for everyone else. There is a whole community of children who know what to do, who understand what the bees do and why they do it.

“They say ‘look at us, we love them, they are great, we are fine’. These kids show that it is not scary.”

Principal Christine Mason says the school’s stance is paying off, with classrooms full of educated, bee-loving kids.

The students were absolutely humming the day the bees arrived, she says.

“But some adults were very much like, ‘oh keep them away, I am frightened’ so we knew we had to do a lot of education about the fact that bees aren’t there to sting you.”

And now Mrs Mason says the students are proud of their positive bee culture.

“They are very into how to react when there is a bee flying around, they don’t flap, they don’t muck around like that.”

She says bringing the bees on to the school was not without opposition.

“Obviously some parents were concerned about ‘how many children were going to be attacked and stung’.”

But she says that in fact the casualty list has been low, although at first a few children did see how far they could push the bees.

“All children test, well a couple of them have tested and they have found out the result which has been a been a huge learning curve for everybody.”

Mrs Mason’s recommended treatment is just a dab of toothpaste.

She says the partnership goes beyond just having the hives at school – learning about bees has also been woven into the school curriculum.

“This year we have used it as part of our full school study as well. We’ve looked at communities, which includes insect and animal communities and it’s obvious which insect we are going to choose – bees.

She says it is the most authentic learning experience for the students and a tasty one too with the fruits of their endeavour being tubs and tubs of runny honey.


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