"Once they did the research ... they got really concerned and they wanted to know more about these little creatures that most students could care less about in the beginning," said the teacher, Pamela Vamvouris.
The students discovered the issue is serious. Since pollination from honeybees produces one-third of fruits and vegetables, if the bees go, crops will dwindle and the prices for what's left will skyrocket.
"Last year was catastrophic for the bees," said Vamvouris.
The honeybee population has been steadily declining for decades, but the last two years have been even worse. Hives are being found abandoned, with no sign of the colony - or any dead bees - anywhere.
"Nobody knows where they're going, and the bottom line is they're not staying put," said Vamvouris. "There's no one specific reason why the bees are disappearing. They're disappearing and nobody knows why."
As the fifth-graders learned more about bees, they discovered their opinion of the creatures changed. Bees don't just buzz around stinging people, they realized, but play a crucial role in agriculture and the environment.
"Now I have a very different perspective on the little pollinators," Trevor Alexander, one of the students, wrote on a honeycomb collage the class made.
"At first I didn't appreciate bees at all," Jamie Lemons wrote. "But now that I know what they do, I appreciate them."
The students are working on spreading that awareness to the rest of the community.
They put on a play about honeybees at Greenbrook Elementary last week on Wednesday, followed by a bee science fair. The play illustrated the lives of the queen and worker bees in the colony. Afterward the yellow-and-black-clad students, along with audience, buzzed around booths which displayed information on the topic.
Vamvouris' class has been working on several other projects, too. They're writing a book about honeybees and hope to publish it, and they created a Web site back in December.
"The benefit of raising awareness is the honeybees right now are underappreciated," Vamvouris said. "People don't understand bees, especially children. The thinking is, 'Bees sting, and they're a nuisance.' I think bees are misunderstood."
The school is dedicating this year's Earth Day, on April 22, to the honeybee. Vamvouris' class will host a "fun fest" for fellow students in the area. And of course, the message of the event will be: Help save the honeybees.
The bee problem
Scope of the problem
The number of managed honeybee colonies has dropped from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million today, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2006 and 2007, beekeepers on the West Coast reported a loss of 30 to 40 percent of colonies, and up to 70 percent in other locations.
If the rate of decline keeps up, honeybees will cease to exist by 2035. The bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops. Without pollination, these crops cannot grow, which would result in a shortage of around 90 different fruits and vegetables.
The cause of Colony Collapse Disorder is unknown and still being researched. Scientists believe bees are malnourished and stressed, possibly due to mites, pathogens, pesticides or electromagnetic radiation from cell phones.
The 2007 Farm Bill passed by Congress helps support beekeepers who are struggling, and requires that the U.S. Department of Agriculture continue researching possible causes and solutions.
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