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Scappoose students want to help bee colonies

Scappoose Middle School students plant a pollinator garden to learn about natural resources, save declining bee population

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Scappoose Middle School students rake soil out of a wheelbarrel into a raised garden bed where they will plant a winter crop garden. Pictured left to right: Jenna Lauridsen, Taylor McDougle, Monserratt Sandoval, Trenton Pleus and Helen Connell. As the world’s bee population continues to decline, students at Scappoose Middle School are trying to do something about it.

This fall a group of students in Sally Mill’s environment and community class planted a pollinator garden on a piece of land adjacent to the school. The garden is designed specifically to attract bees so they can produce a food supply for their hives.

On a Friday afternoon, Helen Connell, a seventh-grader, explained how each plant grows and what benefit it poses for the bees who will use it to collect pollen. She points to plants, like sweet woodruff, Douglas Aster, yarrow and bee balm, which have been carefully planted in the ground, watered and monitored by students in the class.

Since the beginning of the school year, students have been learning about bees and how human development has negatively affected the world’s bee population.

In 2015, The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that honey bee colonies have declined 8 percent for commercial operations with more than five colonies, which equals 23,000 colonies. Bee colonies affected by Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon where adult bees die suddenly and rapidly outside the hive, accounted for the loss of 121,000 colonies. Factors influencing CCD can include use of pesiticides, mites or other environmental factors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Each week, students learn about the interconnected relationship between what grows in the wild and what bees need to survive. They’ve also learned about how bees help pollinate food crops and are a natural staple in agriculture. United States honey production decreased 12 percent in 2015, the USDA reports.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Scappoose science teacher Sally Mills directs students in her environment and community class as they help weed an overgrown garden bed. The students have planted a pollinator garden and a winter vegetable garden as part of their class.Connell said she was surprised to learn that the bee colony collapse is partially human-caused. Using the garden to help support local bee colonies could help spread public awareness about how others can do their part.

“I hope it informs the public to show there are bees dying,” Connell said. “If we don’t help them, they can’t help us.”

Other students, like Monserrat Sandoval, a seventh-grader, want the community to get involved in their own backyards, including planting pollinator gardens.

The students are also planting a nearby herb and winter vegetable garden. Mills explained that having the pollinator garden and the vegetable garden near one another will show students the direct effect bees can have on food production.

Bringing community to the classroom

Mills started an environmental science class at the middle school last year, but wanted to find a way to make the education component part of a community effort. She added the “community” aspect of the class to do just that — teach students while engaging them with neighborhood organizations.

“It’s all about getting community into the classroom and getting the class into the community,” Mills said.

At the time, Kelly Rosecrans, who volunteers once a week at the community garden located on the Rural Organizing Project’s property on Maple Street in Scappoose, also approached staff at the middle school to ask about helping maintain the space. The location is within walking distance of the school, which seemed like the perfect fit, she said.

Mills saw it as an opportunity to expand the scope of her class.

Donations from local business like Scappoose Sand and Gravel and several handmade raised garden beds created by middle school Principal Ron Alley have made the effort a true “community project” so far, Mills said.

Students have also enjoyed being outside and getting their hands in the dirt, which breaks up their daily routines. Some, like Sandoval and Braden Isenberg, an eighth-grader in the class, enjoy weeding the garden in addition to planting.

“There’s such a benefit to having them get out and just slow down and watch plants grow,” Mills said.