In early 2001, Dexter Chapin walked into Canuche Terranella’s office and demanded a bee club. Canuche had learned bee-keeping in the Peace Corps and was teaching chemistry to 10th graders, while Dexter had once kept bees in Africa. It just seemed to work, and the two of them were out on the roof of the Arts Center with the bees by the spring of 2002.
“I just walked in and found out that he liked bees,” states Dexter, remembering his first conversation with Canuche. “I was a new teacher [at SAAS] then.”
There are many reasons why the Bee Club still exists to this day, nearly 15 years later. The Bee Club is incredibly important, both to the environment and to the students in the club. People are clearly passionate about the bees and the issues that surround them, which is obvious in the way that Dexter compares the bees to canaries to show how valuable they are to our society.
“Coal miners used to take a canary into the coal mine with them. If the canary stopped singing, the miners grabbed the canary and left the mine. The canary would tell them if there was a poisonous gas coming up because you couldn’t smell it,” he explains. “Well, to me, bees are the canaries in the coal mines. If we can’t keep bees alive, we’re in serious trouble. They’re very good indicator organisms.”
Melinda Mueller, a biology teacher and botanist who runs the club with Dexter, shares why what the club does is so important.
“There has been a syndrome happening for the past ten or so years called Colony Collapse Disorder in which colonies just die,” says Melinda. “We have ideas of what might be causing it, but there are a multitude of problems. Maybe a virus, definitely a pesticide, but colonies are just dying.” With honeybees being the main pollinators of fruits and vegetables, Melinda urges anyone and everyone to help encourage the survival of bees, especially in urban habitats.
Dexter loves seeing students get enthusiastic about bees or getting over their fears. Very few people have been stung by a bee, according to Melinda. If they’ve been stung, it’s usually by a wasp. Melinda enjoys the variety in flavors and appearance in the honey from year to year. The honey is different every year because the major plants in bloom for the season effect how the honey tastes and how dark it looks.
“We’ve had everything from honey as dark as molasses to really pale, apple-juice colored honey. The honeys that are really dark tend to have a distinct flavor that I love,” Melinda shares.
I was astonished to hear that store-bought honey is barely made with honey anymore. Most of it is made with sugar-water, but there are no FDA regulations on what “honey” means. There is, however, one way to tell if the honey you consume is real. “If the honey has pollen in it, it’s real,” Melinda says. “We teach the kids how to look for pollen in a microscope.”
Both Melinda and Dexter have expressed that it is never difficult to get people to join their club. In fact, many students have gone on to be more involved, their families even beginning to keep bees. A couple of students have either joined a bee club or have created their own club in college.
Dexter encourages everyone to join. “We live in a world of concrete,” Dexter explains. How many of us actually see an organism that isn’t quite tame? We see cows, we see dogs, we see cats. Those are all domesticated. The honeybee is domesticated, it is, but they’re still a little bit wild.”