Kentucky TeacherEmma Stevens has been beekeeping for a little over a year and a half, yet she already has brought pride not only to Greenup County, but the whole Appalachian region.
The 16-year-old junior at Greenup County High School recently was named one of the nation’s top youth beekeepers by the North American Bayer Bee Care Program.
“Getting recognized for my work reassures me that my work has a purpose and that people do care about bees and pollinators,” Stevens said.
The program aims to recognize the next generation of beekeepers and their efforts to give back to their communities through activities that support honey bee and pollinator health. While the national award is only in its second year, Kentucky made a strong impact in 2020 with Keith Griffith III of Louisville also receiving recognition for his work.
For the contest, students were asked to complete two essay questions: one on their prior experiences with beekeeping, and the other on what they plan to do in the future with bees and other pollinators.
Like many younger children in her district, Stevens used to be terrified of bees. Now, as the vice-president of Greenup County High School’s FFA chapter, she is playing an instrumental role in fighting common misconceptions about bees in her community.
“I think the most common misconception about honeybees is that they are aggressive,” Stevens said. “This is not true. Honeybees are only aggressive when they feel threatened or attacked.”
Carrie Davis, an agriculture teacher and the FFA adviser at the school, said the work being done by Stevens and the rest of the beekeeping community to dispel these myths about bees is vital for their future.
“I fear our population is becoming more and more detached from our environment,” Davis said. “When you get detached, it is easy to lose perspective, compassion and understanding. You can be led to believe things that aren’t true.
“Bees have suffered a lot of collateral damage in our food system. Hopefully, by bringing awareness of their importance, we can show kids that while, yeah, they have a stinger and might sting you, they are so much more than that.”
Davis, who has been teaching for 21 years, the last eight at Greenup County, understood the critical importance of pollinators but wasn’t sure how to include that information in her curriculum because she had no prior experience.
After a meeting with the president of a local beekeeper’s association, she invited him to come speak to her class.
“He’s so passionate about bees that if you heard him speak, you’d get bees too,” Davis said. “He told me we could do it. He told me how we could do it and said that the club would be there to help us every step of the way.”
Davis applied for grants from the Kentucky FFA Foundation to get her school started. However, it was a grant from Bayer that allowed the school to establish a pollinator habitat on campus and in a few other local areas.
Davis said the community has shown its support for the program, as well. One community member donated a large amount of bee equipment, which allowed several agriculture students to get bees and keep them at home without having to pay for all of the expenses upfront.
Bees are now in the curriculum of all of Davis’ classes, which are heavy in animal science, and the high school students do a lot of work to prepare activities for the younger students in the district.
Stevens, who won $2,000 in the contest, is committed to educating her community about the importance of pollinators.
With the money, she hopes to start a bee club at her high school, conduct a three-day junior bee camp for students in 2nd-6th grades and organize a STEM Day for Greenup County’s four elementary schools.
Through beekeeping, Stevens has learned a great deal of responsibility, she said. After she graduates, she hopes the program will continue at her school for years to come and other schools in Kentucky will begin to teach and promote the importance of these powerful pollinators.
This story first appeared in Kentucky Teacher, a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education.