Holiday Fund: ‘Bee Brave’ program teaches kids to manage fear | News

“Flap your wings very quickly!” Miss Jennifer told the first graders in elementary school one morning last December.

The Sixteenth Grade disciples, gathered on the mat, stretched their arms out from their sides, their hands trembling rapidly in the rhythmic motion of flight. Right now, boys and girls have undergone a radical transformation. All bees dry the nectar in a “hive” to become the most delicious type of honey: honey.

The “Bee Brave” class, a module on Sager Family Farm’s Big Buzz About Bees, addresses anxiety and fear among children in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic while teaching them an appreciation for nature. Learning about the complex interactions within honeybee colonies helps children learn life skills such as socialization, self-reliance, and teamwork.

Executive Director Kendal Sager said the class offers ways to overcome these obstacles in an age-appropriate, accessible way through the lens of beekeeping. Students learn to recognize anxiety in their bodies and develop coping skills in stressful situations by understanding why so many people are afraid of bees. These lessons can be applied to other stressful situations.

Last year, the organization received the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, receiving $15,000 to expand its programs to reach disadvantaged students in East Palo Alto. In addition to Bee Brave for first graders, Kindergarteners received an introduction to bees, insect life cycles, and their needs. Fourth graders were taught a “Pollinator’s Paradise” class, which focuses on how to support pollinators by creating year-round habitats, water sources, and forage in their school gardens.

This year, Sager’s family farm brought bees and their lessons from nature to 432 students in Kindergarten, first, second, and fourth grades in four different schools—the first time the programs have been taught in East Palo Alto, Sager said.

“How many of you are afraid of bees?” Jennifer Verstregen — Miss Jennifer — asked the first graders during a session Dec. 9. Hands rose.

Verstregen sympathizes: What’s scarier than a hive full of angry, swarming bees, right? she asked.

But there’s more going on behind those compound eyes than it might seem at first glance, and Verstregen has invited the kids into the hive’s mind.

She explained that when a bee stings a person, they die. It’s a very drastic result.

“They must have a really good reason for this to happen. If she knew she was going to die, what feelings might the bee have? Do you think the bee might be really afraid when it stings us?”

“How do you feel when you are afraid?” I asked the children. “I’m starting to shiver. I want to run away. My heart is beating so fast.”

She waved her hands in panic.

Understanding, she said, can help individuals and communities learn to overcome fear of nature and each other. To understand the motive behind the bee’s anger, one has to take a peek inside its house.

Verstregen opened a small borderless cell box as an example of what a full-size cell would look like. It is lined with hanging wooden frames, some of which are covered with wax honeycombs.

When foraging, bees secrete flower nectar with their long proboscis or tongue. The bees put the nectar in a “honey stomach” - a bag separate from the stomach, which they use to eat it. When the honey’s stomach is full of nectar, it flies back to the hive, where the nectar is deposited in the waxy honeycomb.

This is where wing ventilation comes in: bees work their wings to circulate air and reduce the amount of water content and nectar concentration in the honey. This becomes bee food.

But there is more.

Bees are a family: there are stinging sister bees - workers; and brother bees - drones, which do not have stinging arms; And the Queen Mother. Like any family, Verstregen said, they want their home to remain secure.

“The mother bee - the queen - her job is to raise lots of baby bees. Do you think a frightened bee would sting us if she thought we were going to hurt her babies and family in the hive?” she asked.

So how does one stop bees from being afraid?

Using personality traits that will induce bees to feel safe. She said that the beekeeper should be calm, gentle and courageous around the bees.

“Sometimes the best thing to do is take a deep breath. Taking a deep breath is something we can do to be calm. Taking a moment to stop and taking a deep breath allows us to take a moment to reflect,” she said. .

Close up with bees

Such was her involvement in real interaction with bees. Fear filled some children and curiosity consumed others when Saqr opened the doors to the live bee display box. Inside, separated from the children by transparent plexiglass, approximately 5,000 sepia-colored insects swarm actively on the honeycombs. In the center, the queen is larger than the rest, and her head is embedded in one of the hexagonal cells. She would check them for cleanliness before laying an egg inside the brood chamber, which are special cells where the bee babies would incubate.

Verstregen invited the children to approach the hive. If they put their hands on the plexiglass, they may feel the warmth that the hive radiates from.

“We will show the good character traits of a good beekeeper and keep calm,” she said as the children approached.

Nine times out of 10, the most fearful kids will come to the hive and put their hand on the glass, she said. By understanding the motivations behind behaviors in nature, she said, children become less fearful and more accepting and appreciative of the natural world. These lessons carry over to their outlook and behavior in the real world.

“I was kind of worried when I first saw the hive because I thought the teachers were going to open it, but I touched it. It was kind of warm. I saw the queen bee and I was kind of nervous!” said a soft-spoken girl.

For two boys, the bees weren’t scary.

“I loved it,” said a strong boy. “It was my first time with bees. I want to touch them next time and learn how to be a beekeeper.”

“They were great,” added the younger of the two. “I wasn’t afraid. I want to have them in my backyard. I have a pet dog and a pet bird. If I had pet bees, I would feed them.”

Another girl is a 6-year-old with big brown eyes, who is a senior at overcoming her fears of nature.

She said, “I was afraid of fish as a child. I got over it when I got older, because fish—most fish—don’t bite.” “We can’t be bad for the bees or they’re going to trick us and die, and we don’t want them to die.”

Awe started at Hidden Villa

For Sager, the excitement and curiosity of children is much like what she has at that age, which is why she wants so much to instill in children an awe of nature at a young age: so they will grow up to be adults who cherish the natural world. .

In first grade, she had her first contact with bees at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills.

“I milked a cow and fed the chickens, and I came home and said, ‘I’m going to be a farmer,'” she recalls.

Her parents were a little surprised. They had second thoughts about their daughter’s career.

“They were like, ‘Oh my God. We live in Silicon Valley,'” she said.

A native of Los Altos, Sager got into the tech field, but has maintained an interest in farming.

“I wanted my own farm animals… that I could play with on the weekends,” she said.

After working at DreamWorks Animation on movies like Kung Fu Panda 2, she left after a short vacation. She started beekeeping in 2011 and joined the San Mateo County Beekeeping Guild. When it first appeared, the Bee Guild consisted mostly of men around the age of 60.

“They asked me if I was in the wrong place,” she recalls.

But soon their nonprofit, inspired by Sager’s infectious enthusiasm and leadership, became the financial sponsor of the Sager Family Farm for demonstrations for school children.

They said: we think you will scare the children less. “There is an endorsement if you’ve ever heard it,” she said.

Sager Family Farm has taught Big Buzz About Bees in 350 classrooms to approximately 8,208 students since its founding in 2015. Sager has used her Dreamworks training to tell stories and connect it to state education programs, including the Department of Education, the California Department of Social Services and California Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, and the California Blueprint for environmental literacy with appropriate grade-level curricula. Sager Family Farm has taught 200 Bay Area elementary school classes for free, plus additional classes for a fee.

Verstregen, a nature educator at Sager Family Farm, has also been a teacher for 25 years. She said the class gives children “an opportunity to explore nature up close and see what nature has to offer.”

Classes include elements of regular student learning, such as instructions about insect body parts, how parents help children, geometry and shapes, and counting to tens.

The program is currently connected to a unit where students learn about tools and how to use the different functions of the tools, said Martha Valencia, the children’s first grade teacher. The children saw how beekeepers use specific tools in their work.

And when they talked about being nice, quiet, and taking deep breaths, it related to how children handle crises and disagreements.

Valencia said the bee class also taught her a lesson.

“For me, bees are usually scary,” she said, “but we can be kind to all the helpers” in the natural world.

The Weekend Fund’s annual charity drive is in full swing, with the goal of raising $600,000 for local nonprofits serving children, families, and individuals in need. Read more about the Holiday Fund on the website or go to to donate.