GORHAM, Maine — Last June, a quiet corner of Robie Park in Gorham became a beehive of activity – when the Gorham High School Bee Club set up two new hives and introduced roughly 20,000 bees to their new homes. The students were newly certified as beekeepers, thanks to English teacher Catherine Paul. Now, nearly four months later – have the bees settled into their new home? We visited to find out.
"This was one of those divine things that teachers are always hoping for. When a student comes to you as a teacher and says, “I’d like to learn about – fill-in-the-blank. Can you teach it to me?” says Catherine. In addition to teaching English, Catherine Paul is a homesteader and beekeeper. Last year, her students came up with an idea. “We’d like you to teach us how to be bee keepers.” And that is exactly what she did – during the pandemic, with both remote learning and in-person meetings, she taught them what they’d need to know to keep bees. Last June, they set up two hive boxes in the park across from Gorham High School.
With Catherine watching her new beekeepers closely, the students went to work. "This is the first time that they’re taking their book learning and our discussions to hands on live bees. It’s a really big deal," she says.
With the hives in place, it would be up to the kids, with Catherine’s help, to check the hives throughout the summer. "Last year we did a certification class for some core members of the new bee club and they helped to install the hives – the nucleuses – and then school ended. Those committed kids came three times over the summer to do further inspections. I did a couple by myself," recalls Catherine.
Word about the club has spread. With the new school year – interest in the bee club has ... "Exploded!" says Catherine. "We have over 50 members – we’ve gone from the ten, kind of, core kids last year to over 50 members."
They have a leadership board, and a social media manager. The club president, Aedan MacDougall, says this activity is different from anything else at the school. He puts it this way. "It’s just the kind of chance to be in nature and just to kind of shut off other things in your life and just be completely calm and involved with it."
This inspection is the first step in readying the hives for winter. Catherine guides them through the steps. "Today we’re gonna feed the bees. They need a really thick nectar to kind of set them up to get ready for the winter. We’re gonna see how they respond to us doing an inspection, so we’re gonna smoke them, open the top of one, see how many frames we can inspect."
Some of the students will work with the Gorham Rec Department to teach bee workshops through Adult Ed. And in March, the club will offer another six week series where more Gorham High students can get certified as bee keepers.
Beekeepers will tell you that working with bees can actually be peaceful, and very centering. This really has been a town-wide effort. Gorham Public Works and the Rec Department built the bee yard to house the hives, and the bees came from Backwoods Bee Farm in Windham. And thanks to the popularity of the Bee Club, it appears as though those bees will be well cared for – for quite some time.