Southern Maine Feb. 16, 2023

Investigating Local Climate Change Impacts in Old Orchard Beach Through the Eyes of A Honey Bee

Educators from Old Orchard Beach Maine came together to engage students in a study of Bees and Pollinators. Students explored the connections between blueberries, bees, and changes is spring temperatures driven by climate change, planted pollinator gardens, created informational displays for the local library and so much more!

At Loranger Memorial School in Old Orchard Beach, fifth-grade teacher Laura Seaver and myself, Cynthia Nye, teacher of the gifted and talented program, are collaborating with Theo Ciampa of OOB Community Friendly Connection (CFC) and Heather MacNeill, children’s librarian at our public library, Libby Memorial Library, to involve students in planting pollinator gardens and teaching the community about pollinators. Each organization was working separately on pollinator projects, so we decided to combine forces and apply for a CLE grant, which we received last spring.

In spring 2022, Laura’s students renewed the soil and planted native pollinator plants in the former vegetable beds at Loranger School. Libby Memorial Library displayed pollinator information for Community Friendly Connection, and CFC planted their first pollinator garden in space donated by the Community Garden at our town’s recreation complex at the ballpark.

Laura and I are also part of Developing a Modeling Orientation to Science (DMOS) with GMRI, so we decided to start the 2022-23 school year with GMRI’s new learning module, Bees, Blueberries, and Climate Change (BBCC). We prepared for the unit by taking students outside to observe pollinators and learn about local ecosystems.

Student collecting data of their pollinator garden

Then we launched the unit by planting 26 pollinator shrubs, including native blueberries, to complete an erosion mitigation project at the school tennis court. Shri Verrill, our partner at York County Soil and Water Conservation District, provided support for this project. The Old Orchard Beach Public Works Department did the major site work over the summer. In September, they delivered the plants, compost, and mulch for our planting day.

At Shri’s request, my students tested the compost using “The Pantry Soil Test,” with ingredients provided by our cafeteria staff. Tests showed the compost was basic, so HollyTone was added to make the soil appropriately acidic for our plants.

Shri prepared these species slides to show students the planting plan and pollinators the plants may attract. On a gorgeous day in September, volunteers from Community Friendly Connection and OOB Community Gardens helped Laura's classes plant.

Overheard during planting:

“I did something good for the earth today.”

“This is my favorite day of school so far!

“We’re saving the world today. By saving the pollinators, we’re saving the planet.”

“I’ve never planted anything before.”

“Can you believe we’re at school? This is so fun.”

“It’s just like summer!”

After the project launch, Shri prepared a press release. Since the launch, Laura’s students have been invested in teaching others about protecting the new shrubs.

Throughout August and early September, Community Friendly Connection held a youth art contest to choose a logo for their garden signs. Students submitted entries through the town library, school, and recreation department. Thirty-one entries were displayed in the town library for judging, and a winner and two runners-up received prizes from Community Friendly’s Theo Ciampa and Cathy Chaisson in an awards ceremony at school.

Other activities spun off from the initial pollinator projects. Laura and another teacher from DMOS created a database for their students to share bee sightings. The art teacher created a new unit for fifth graders, in which students drew observational studies of bees.

Student drawing. There are 5 hexagons, 2 with flowers, 1 with honey comb, 1 with a detailed drawing of a bee and one that has the words Bee Kind

Laura extended the BBCC unit with more lessons about climate change to prepare students for their class trip to Lab Venture. We took students to the Saco Heath to explore that unique bog ecosystem, the source of the Goosefare Brook watershed, which our tennis court plantings are helping to protect. Students also learned about an endangered butterfly, the Hessel’s hairstreak, that lives in rare-for-our-area Atlantic white cedars at Saco Heath. In October, adults from the Community Gardens and Conservation Commission helped my students plant American chestnut seedlings beside the recreation department pond, seedlings we grew as part of a project at the University of New England to help restore American chestnut trees.

Students wrapped up the Bees, Blueberries, and Climate Change unit with projects of their choosing, including creating signs and public service slides to display around school and building mason bee houses from invasive plant stalks. Art contest entries will be displayed in kiosks at a town conservation area, and Community Friendly will help new groups of students plant pollinator gardens at the elementary school and conservation areas in the spring. Two students wrote to our state representative, Lori Gramlich, asking to make the Hessel’s hairstreak Maine’s state butterfly. Representative Gramlich agreed and has invited all our fifth graders to be in the gallery when she proposes the bill in spring 2023!

Community Friendly Connection and the OOB Conservation Commission are dedicated partners who will continue to support student projects going forward. Heather, the children’s librarian at the town library, plans to add backpacks about pollinators and climate change to the library’s STEAM backpack lending program. The library has displayed student work and pollinator information for Community Friendly Connection and provided books for the student-built bookhouse at one of our conservation areas, which in the spring will include resources about pollinators. All of these partnerships benefit our students and the wider community. Additionally, GMRI staff have connected Heather and me with colleagues in other towns who want to do projects similar to ours, so we can share and learn from each other.

Picture of 5 youth backpacks with STEAM kits. There is a sign that reads STEAM backpacks are checked out for a one-week period. Check one out today! You can choose from 8 different themes! Limit 1 per child