When bees buzz nearby, the first reaction of students at St. Augustine’s School in Ossining isn’t to swat them in fear. It’s more than likely they will look at the little creatures calmly and with respect for what they do for the environment.
“I was afraid of bees,” said Michael Dinelli, a sixth-grader who is one of 14 members of the school’s newly formed beekeeping club.
“I thought I would join and overcome my fear, and I did,” he said happily. “I learned that they weren’t as aggressive as I thought. If you don’t bother them, they won’t sting.”
The club meets once a week to take care of two beehives. They are kept on isolated grounds behind the rectory.
“The parish is on 35 acres and the spot gets the morning sun, which the bees need. It works out perfectly,” said Father Brian McSweeney, pastor of St. Augustine’s parish and a big supporter of the club.
“Part of the impetus of the club was knowing the Holy Father would like us to do whatever we can to help the environment,” said the pastor, who cited the papal encylical “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home,” as part of the reasoning for the club.
“Honey bees are important,” he said.
John Gallagher, music teacher, moderates the club. Members come from the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade classes. To approach the hives, students must pass a beekeeping test for safety. “The test is on all sorts of things, the history of bees, the tools necessary, the components of a hive, bee anatomy and beekeeping,” Gallagher said.
Michael told CNY in an interview May 20, “It was a very hard test. I never thought I was going to pass. The first time, I got a 76. I studied really hard and then I got a 106.”
“It was really worth it,” he said.
“My favorite part about the club is probably reading about them in the book called ‘Beekeeping for Dummies.’ It had great, interesting facts about the bees. I thought it was very neat that you can have bees in an urban community. There are set laws for an urban community because there are so many people,” Michael said.
The students are split into two teams, each responsible for one hive—with each hive named after the patron saints of bees and beekeeping, St. Ambrose and St. Gobnait.
Seventh-grade club member Devlin Hose said, “When I first entered the club, I was asked to paint two pictures for the beehives of the saints. I knew there were saints for teaching and teachers and math, art and holidays, but not for bees and beekeepers. It was interesting to learn about the saint’s backgrounds. I didn’t know there was a religious aspect to something so scientific.”
He said he joined the club because “it was a great opportunity to learn more about bees.”
“They are so small and tiny and the fact that we rely on them so much—it is kind of frightening they are going out of existence,” he said.
“I love that our school is doing something like this,” he said. “You work as a team, learn new stuff and help the bees.”
Gallagher explained to CNY that when the bees arrived April 28, 12,000 to 15,000 bees populated each hive. Father McSweeney led a bee-blessing ceremony that day.
By the end of the season, Gallagher said, there should be an average of 50,000-60,000 bees per hive. The queen bee can lay between 1,000 and 2,000 eggs per day. They expect to collect about 50-60 pounds of honey per hive. Gallagher hopes to harvest the honey next spring.
Catherine Sutterlin, an eighth-grade member, said, “My favorite part is working with the bees. It’s fun to put on the suit and the veil.” Each student wears a beekeeping suit when working near the hives. The veil is the hood that beekeepers wear.
“It’s fun to open the hive and see what the bees do. I’d never seen that before. I never actually saw a hive, let alone a whole colony of bees,” she said. “When you open up the hive, there are a lot of bees all working trying to produce the honey,” she said.