What’s the Buzz? Academe of the Oaks apiary gives students a closer connection to nature

Academe of the Oaks, a college-preparatory high school in Decatur, is focused on finding ways to give students a well-rounded education. As School Director Eva Handschin explained, “Academe offers project-based and interdisciplinary learning that is robust and forward thinking, preparing our students for the fast-changing world they will inherit.”

To help educate them about the natural part of their world, the Academe’s campus includes an apiary with seven functioning hives.

“Connecting our students to nature, science, and fostering opportunities for active involvement is at the core of our Waldorf philosophy,” Handschin said. “We’ve kept bees on campus for many years, giving our students a rich opportunity for creative thinking, curiosity and intellectual discovery.” 

The apiary is an expanded version of the school’s beekeeping program, “and it came about through the beautiful relationship with Tara Beekeepers,” Handschin said. “We are so grateful to the Tara Beekeepers; we would not have been able to create this learning oasis for our students otherwise.”

According to Deb DeWitt, president of Tara Beekeepers Association, having the bees on the premises fits right in with the ethos that Academe of the Oaks holds, which is reverence for the natural world. “The experiential nature of working with bees is deeply fascinating and can provide rich learning opportunities for students,” she said. “We hope this translates to a unique and deeper understanding of the environment.”

The Tara Beekeepers Association has been committed to providing education about beekeeping throughout its 40-year history. Some of the organization’s other projects include an ongoing series of beekeeping classes at Clayton State College, teaching children and adult beekeeping courses at Reynolds Nature Preserve, the installation of beehives at Panola Mountain State Park and providing instruction to park staff on the care of bees and setting up an educational booth and observation hive at the Southeast Atlanta Flower Show.

Not only does the hands-on learning experience at Academe of the Oaks teach students about the importance of bees, it also provides leadership opportunities, Handschin said. “The students can become teachers themselves,” she added. “We have a very strong science program here at Academe and we provide applied learning. The bees, the outdoors and our Learning Garden are part of it. We have a Green Club, and a part of it is also beekeeping.”

Interested students are invited to join the Bee Club and work with the bees on a regular basis. “We have the benefit of the guidance from Tara Beekeepers, but our faculty and staff are part of the team as well,” Handschin noted.

  The biggest benefit of the apiary is helping students build a stronger relationship to the planet. “It is of the utmost importance that our students are connected to nature and the environment,” she said. “We need to take care of the environment and the best way to do that is through work and appreciation of nature.”

Beehives aren’t the only campus feature designed to foster that appreciation. Academe of the Oaks also has a pollinator garden and a vegetable garden on campus, and the school provides experiences in animal husbandry, “all of which create meaningful opportunities for our students to collaborate and learn together,” Handschin said.