Bee-coming the difference to save pollinatorsMar 04, 2021 11:44AM ● By Jet Burnham
Emma Davis created a bee hotel as a safe place for the insects to lay their eggs. (Photo courtesy of Amy Pace.)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Native pollinator populations are in decline and a team of high school students is enlisting the public’s help to save bees, butterflies and other natural pollinators.
“It's an ever-growing problem that just needed a solution to help the pollinator,” Kyana Trane said. “We’re trying to get people more aware that they're important and that they're not as scary as they may seem.”
Kyana, her sister Donna, Emma Davis, Lowell Saign, Kate Watson and Zachary Watson have been studying the plight of pollinators over the past four years as part of various school projects at Mountain Heights Academy, which they attend virtually.
The team is now focused on educational outreach and providing resources to encourage community members to be part of their project, which they’ve titled “Bee-coming the Difference.”
These high school students developed an elementary school curriculum that clears up myths and misinformation about bees, explains their important role and enlists kids to help protect them. They provide schools with a bucket of flowers for the school yard and a packet of seeds for each child to plant at home to make bees feel welcome.
The team encourages everyone to plant wildflowers and garden plants that attract pollinating insects. According to the data they’ve collected, this simple gesture can have a positive effect on pollinator populations. Last year, each of the students planted a home garden and grew wildflowers in their yard. Because MHA is an online school, team members live in different areas—from Sandy to American Fork to Uintah Basin—and were able to collect data in a variety of environments.
“The team collected a bunch of data over the summer about different pollinators that they found in the different gardens,” said MHA science teacher and team coach Amy Pace. “So, we have data about the number and the types of all the different pollinators for both types of environments, urban and rural.”
Donna and Kyana, who live in an agricultural area of Great Basin, collected data on their family’s farm.
“We usually grow alfalfa, so we'll see tons of pollinators there that help our crop,” Donna said.
Their efforts on the project inspired their family to open a conservation on their farm to protect pollinators. While that is a great outcome of the project, Pace insists that even a small flower patch can make a difference.
“Everybody, whether you're in a rural area or an urban area, can do your part to encourage native pollinators, just in your yard or in your neighborhood,” she said. “It doesn't require a huge effort to just have some flowers.”
The team created a website at science86.wixsite.com/bee-coming, to explain their project and solutions. There are links to the school curriculum, information about what plants will attract certain pollinators and a data log where community members can contribute their own data to help track pollinator populations.
The website also provides a file for printing a 3D nesting box, which the team is encouraging community members to print and place around their homes and businesses to provide a place for endangered pollinators to nest.
This winter, the students experimented with various building materials to make nesting boxes with different sized holes for pollinators to burrow in. They created several designs but decided the 3D printed design is the simplest way for anyone with access to a 3D printer, commonly available at schools and public libraries, to quickly and easily print a box for their yard.
“It's as simple as just hanging up this little native pollinator house with little holes in it, that the bees can go in,” Pace said. “That provides a huge resource for the bees, to be able to have a place to live and to make it over the winter, because without those homes they die.”
Donna believes the more people who are aware of the problems and solutions affecting pollinators, the more of a difference they can make to their survival.
“If a lot of people are really willing just to simply plant flowers or make a nesting box or just reduce the use of pesticides or the threats to pollinators and just, ultimately, be aware of what we can do to help, they can survive,” Donna said.
The students submitted their project to the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, a nationwide competition that challenges students and their teachers to creatively use STEM skills to address a challenge in their community. They were chosen as one of 75 semifinalist teams to receive $15,000 and a Samsung Galaxy Note20.
Team coach Lora Gibbons said MHA has always supported students entering these types of contests, even before it was profitable. When their teams do earn award money, it is invested back into the program. The 3D printers used to print nesting boxes for this year’s project were purchased with the winnings of the school team that was a finalist in last year’s Samsung competition.
“When we receive funds, it allows us to beef up our programs, and it allows us to get supplies that then continue to allow students to be active participants,” Gibbons said. “We pride ourselves on providing opportunities for our students to have in-action opportunities, where they get to be active participants in solving a problem.”