By. Iris Galante and Alexis Brownlee, students at Floyd E. Kellam High School and Co-Presidents of Pollen-Nation


With the hum of the bees surrounding me, I exhale and let my nerves slip away with a long slow breath. I am a senior member of the club and despite it being early in the school year, I find myself at ease returning to the bee yard. With a puff of smoke into the hive’s entrance I let the bees know our club has arrived. With excitement, I pry the lid off the top box of the hive. The aroma of honey and wax fills the air as I carefully pull a frame of capped honey writhing with bees from the super. The mesh of my veil makes it a bit harder to see but I carefully hand each frame to another student, who brushes the bees off. Frame after frame, I do my best to work quickly, fighting the fatigue of my muscles. I am astounded by the weight thousands of tiny bees can add when perched on each frame of honey. A cluster of bees has come to rest on the sleeve of my shirt; I ignore their curious stares as I go about my task of extracting frames. Like the bees, we too belong to a community with specific tasks and responsibilities, each as important as the others.  This is hard work, but the friendship, knowledge, and sweet taste of honey is worth every bit of it.


Our school keeps bees, and the experience of working with these bees is expansive.  As Co-Presidents of the Floyd E. Kellam High School’s beekeeping club, Pollen-Nation, we oversee honey production, queen rearing, hive management, and community outreach. Our bee yard is not just an apiary; it is an immersive outdoor learning environment. Our club was founded and sponsored by the school’s AP Environmental Science teacher, Chris Freeman, who makes an effort to emphasize the potential connectors between hard science and the living data provided through beekeeping. “The symbiotic relationship between nectar flow and honey production provides data that can be used to analyze local climate shifts and peak bloom dates for our area,” he relates.


The study of bees encompasses a variety of subjects. In medicine, bee venom therapy, with its anti-inflammatory properties, is used as a treatment for arthritis[1]. Examinations of bee interactions and the inner workings of the hive, from a sociological and psychological standpoint, reveal an extremely complex social network with instinctive roles based on age. However, the study of bees is especially relevant in environmental science. Hives provide insight into the health of the surrounding environment, as bees are considered an indicator species. Chemicals used in herbicides and pesticides materialize in a bee’s system, and with each tier of the food chain these chemicals build up in higher concentrations, causing biomagnification and introducing high levels of toxic substances into the meat humans consume[2]. Working with a community of knowledgeable beekeepers, students can become more aware of the current threats to our environment, allowing them to forge deeper connections between reality and what they learn. There are immense educational benefits to having beehives, but it is the simple, tangible experiences that spark curiosity and make lasting memories for students.


As Pollen-Nation, we want to emphasize that anyone can be a beekeeper through raising awareness and advocacy. “You don’t have to have a hive in your backyard to be a beekeeper,” said Norfolk Beekeepers Association President, Frank Walker, “a beekeeper understands the importance of honey bees, promoting them and protecting them.” In our club, we do not just consider ourselves beekeepers, but rather advocates for the bees. We want more people to recognize their food does not simply come from Kroger or Walmart. Bees pollinate roughly 80% of crops around the world, making them invaluable in the effort to feed an ever-growing population[3]. A threat to honey bee colonies is a threat to the stability of agriculture on a global scale.


Our club emphasizes that our relationship with bees is complicated. We need them and yet we do them harm.  Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been attributed to the loss of over 40% of bee colonies in Virginia alone[4], and the U.S. Department of Agriculture anticipates a rise in produce prices could occur if this trend continues. There are three main factors that are frequently associated with CCD: the use of monoculture farming, overexposure to pesticides, and the spread of parasites and viruses throughout colonies.


Monoculture, the cultivation of one crop in a large land area, can weaken the immune system of bees and make them more prone to infection[5]. Many homeowners use pesticides to treat their lawns and kill off pesky bugs; however, these chemicals do not discriminate between good insects and bad, and end up affecting them all. One common group of pesticides is neonicotinoids, so named because they contain traces of nicotine. When bees are exposed to the nicotine, much like humans, they become addicted and seek out further exposure. High levels of nicotine can cause disorientation and inhibit the bees’ cognitive processes, decreasing the chance they will return to the hive[6]. The final contributor to CCD is the spread of parasites and pathogens. The most buy cheap ambien concerning parasite, the varroa mite, infests the colony, latches on to the bees, and sucks their blood. This can not only weaken the bees, but without treatment, can result in the loss of the colony[7]. Often times, novice beekeepers associate treatment with chemicals, which does more harm to their colonies and hastens their decline. Mistakes like this reinforce the necessity for a reliable network that is supportive of efforts to combat bee’s free fall to extinction. As Mr. Walker states frequently to our club, “If you come to me, I won’t just give you bees. You will join the association and learn the art of beekeeping.” Our club benefits greatly from Mr. Walker’s expertise and philosophy of “bee yard sweat-equity”, where novice beekeepers can assist those who are more experienced to establish a circle of support.


Frank Walker has been paramount to the sustainability of Pollen-Nation. Through our partnership, our club has acquired the skills needed to maintain and expand our bee yard. Recently we have developed a queen rearing program. In this program, students graft young bee larva from strong, healthy colonies into specialized cells which are then placed into small queenless colonies created to foster the growth of these queens. We are now selling these hearty queens with desirable traits to local beekeepers. With the sale of our queens, the Norfolk Beekeepers Association has established a scholarship fund for the members of our club.  We are proud that his program has given us an opportunity to stimulate our community’s economy in a positive way.


Mr. Walker has also enabled us to extend our educational reach to the surrounding community. With his help, we have presented at the Plaza Middle School Science Fair to teach younger students, as well as their parents, what they can do at home to create bee-friendly landscaping. Pollen-Nation participated in the 2016 Virginia School Board Association Conference where we had an educational booth. We featured an interactive display that included a dissection microscope with bees, samples of our honey, and bee facts. We have responded to questions and concerns from superintendents across Virginia to potentially inspire more schools to invest in beehives. Our bees have also introduced our club to a wonderful couple, Jessie and Ron Basso, who live near our school and are Master Gardeners. Our bees pollinate their yard and, in return, the Bassos visit our hive and donate plants to our school. Jessie even photographs our bees on her flowers and drinking from her birdbath. Forging these relationships and creating educational outreach opportunities has been surprisingly rewarding and a tremendous confidence boost in our drive to enact positive change in our community.


Students today have every excuse to stay inside and be mesmerized by technology. Beekeeping gives our peers an outlet and the opportunity to expand both their comfort zones and their education. The negative stigma surrounding bees can be lessened through greater education of their true nature. As Freeman put it, “Beekeeping provides students with a sense of ownership and pride in the product they are creating, while also generating an intense curiosity of nature, all within a self-directed learning experience.” Although the benefits of a beehive are immense, it is not essential to keep bees to be a beekeeper. We find pride and curiosity through hands-on education, activism, and the enriching partnership with our community.


Additional Reference


“Pollination Facts.” American Beekeeping Federation, 2015. Web. Spring 2016.


About the Authors


Iris Galante

Iris is a senior at Floyd E. Kellam High School, and is Co-President of the Beekeeping Club, alongside Alexis Brownlee. She is involved in many academically inclined clubs and maintains a rigorous course load. Iris plans to attend Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall for Biomedical Engineering on a pre-medical track. She one day hopes to obtain a Ph.D/M.D. in Biomedical Engineering with a concentration in Neurology.


Alexis Brownlee

Alexis is a senior at Floyd E. Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She is the Co-President of their Beekeeping Club, alongside Iris Galante. Her passion for education has led her to join the Science Bowl and Scholastic Bowl. In addition, she has been involved in the Choral Department and is a member of Kellam’s most elite musical group. Alexis has enjoyed her four years at Kellam, but is excited to begin four years at Lancaster University in England to study Environmental Science.

[1] “Bee Venom Therapy for Arthritis.” Healthline. N.p., 2005. Web. Spring 2016.

[2] Walker, Larissa. “Can We Learn from the Bees in Time to Save Them?” Center for Food Safety. N.p., 25 Apr. 2013. Web.


[3] Agricultural Research Service. “Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder.” Agricultural Research Service. United States Department of Agriculture, n.d. Web. Spring 2016.

[4] “U.S. Beekeepers Lost 40 Percent of Bees in 2014-15.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, n.d. Web. Spring 2016.

[5] Agricultural Research Service. “Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder.” Agricultural Research Service. United States Department of Agriculture, n.d. Web. Spring 2016.

[6] “What Is a Neonicotinoid?” Texas A&M: AgriLife Extension. Texas A&M, n.d. Web. Spring 2016.

[7] Bessin, Ric. “Varroa Mites Infesting Honey Bee Colonies.” University of Kentucky: Department of Entomology. N.p., n.d. Web. Spring 2016.