Propel Andrew Street High School honored for beekeeping class
The bee business is booming at Propel Andrew Street High School, and the state has taken notice.
The Munhall school, part of a charter school chain in the Mon Valley, won a 2013 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for its beekeeping class. Other local winners were the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, RiverQuest and UPMC.
“I felt like what we’re doing was pretty unique, and it’s nice to get some acknowledgement for that,” said Brandon Keat, who teaches the elective class in addition to English. “These are not kids who grew up on farms. For some of them it involved overcoming a certain fear. It’s pretty awesome that these kids are willing to face that.”
The beekeeping class has 11 students and incorporates biology, entrepreneurship and community service. The students alternate from the classroom to their apiary at a former convent in Braddock, where the four hives reside.
Keat began the program as a club about four years ago in response to a student’s interest.
“Students I have who may not be interested in English come here, and they’ve got tens of thousands of bees around them, and all of a sudden they’re not the same kind of student,” he said.
Students learn about the key role bees play in pollinating plants, including food-producing ones, and the threats bees face from things such as pesticides. Propel does not use pesticides around its hives.
The students check on the health of the hives and sometimes feed the bees by mixing sugar water in a bucket on the top of the hives.
On Tuesday, the class made a surprising discovery. All the bees in one hive were dead, possibly from cold weather or other environmental stresses, Keat said.
Using the brand name Asenath, a minor biblical character who had a run-in with bees, the students bottle honey and make lip balm from the wax and honey. The honey sells for $4 to $7 a jar. Student beekeepers get complimentary honey. So far, the program has made $2,000, with plans to add one or two hives.
Keat describes a hive as a “ruthless matriarchy” where the queen is the only fully developed bee. He relayed what one student told him: “A hive is one old lady ordering around a bunch of 10-year-old girls.”
Kendan Jones, 17, a sophomore from the South Side, called the class fun and tasty.
“It’s like you’re raising thousands of children,” he said. “It’s a good experience to learn how to keep something so small out of harm’s way.”
Propel is the only school in the state to win the award this year. UPMC won the award for the creation of an Energy and Environmental Engineering Department; RiverQuest won for its Marcellus shale outreach program; and the conservancy won for a watershed restoration project in Elk County.
A dinner in Harrisburg is planned for April 17 to honor the winners.
Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or firstname.lastname@example.org.