West End Bees

West End Elementary School staff place a bee hive that was purchased for the school-wide pollinator project at its foster home recently. Two other hives are at two other foster homes, and after about a year of getting them acclimated to their new environment, the hives will be brought to the school. (Photo contributed by Tiffany Abbott Fuller)

This is Part One of a two-part series on projects at West End Elementary School that are focused on environmental sustainability and what impact these projects are having on the way students learn. Part Two will run in Tuesday’s Rome News-Tribune.

A pollinator project, a worm composting initiative and a farm-to-table cookbook are just a few hands-on undertakings that are making West End Elementary School into less of a traditional school and more of an active science lab.

Tiffany Abbott Fuller, a literacy coach at the school and the spearhead of the pollinator project, said three state grants over the last year have kick started the projects. The first was a planning grant for $9,900, focused on trying to solve an issue that affects everyone. The kids were thinking big, she said, wanting to discover a cure for cancer.

However, the reins were pulled in a bit through area partnerships, eventually settling on environmental sustainability. The focus turned to pollinators, a subject already built into the curriculum. Fuller said inspiration from Berry Bees, a student enterprise at the college, and help from Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw, which also trained teachers in beekeeping and certified some, landed the sights on bees.

The school-wide pollinator project was kicked off in February, birthing the WEE Bees, and the word has spread rapidly in Rome. Speaking engagements, Rome being designated as a Bee City USA and working with local beekeepers, make up a wealth of community support that has come from the project.

Beekeeping has become a big idea in the world as of late, Fuller said, as concerns over the potential extinction of honeybees and its subsequent impact on the fate of humanity have hit the mainstream.

Last month, school staff, who have been trained for beekeeping, picked up three hives that Daphney Glass, who owns Sweet Lips Honey Beekeeping and teaches through Smith-Gilbert Gardens, was selling from the 16 hives she had. The hives were placed at three foster homes, including Fuller’s property. The hives will be split next spring, making six from the original three, but most likely won’t be brought to the school until spring 2019 — this allows for an adjustment period for the bees and the final preparations to be completed for their resettlement at West End.

Teachers who are certified beekeepers will train students so they can handle the hives by themselves. Fuller said most people think about bees and panic. But the advantage with student beekeepers, she continued, is that young kids are fearless and are incredibly capable. Students’ excitement for these projects has made sponges of their brains, she explained, and has made them more susceptible to retaining the knowledge from lessons.

The aim is to have students play the role of actual scientists, doing field notes and recording observations — setting up a camera to stream a live feed of a hive’s activity is a goal, Fuller said. Another idea is to have students submit their work to be published in scientific journals.

West End did away with textbook-teaching years ago, said Fuller, adding that the best way to learn is by doing. This isn’t unique to the pollinator project either, rather its part of a larger theme of the school to be cutting edge while developing a culture of collaboration between all grade levels, she said.