4-H'ers teach Sidney students the importance of bees


Anthony Ruiz / The Sun-Telegraph

4-H'er Chantal Riggs, 16, gives a presentation on the declining population of honey bees worldwide to Sidney sixth grade students as part of the 4-H Ag Innovators Experience.

West Elementary School students in Sidney were buzzing about a special presentation in their science classes Monday as two Cheyenne County 4-H'ers gave presentations and led them in an activity centered around the declining population of honey bees worldwide.

The presentation was part of the 4-H Ag Innovators Experience, a collaboration between the National 4-H Council and agribusiness corporation Monsanto. In the program, 4-H'ers are educated on a real-world agricultural challenge, which they then present to students in their area.

"We participated two years ago," Cheyenne County UNL Extension Educator Cynthia Gill said. "This is our second time with the program."

This year was the "Honey Bee Challenge," focusing on the importance of honey bees in food production.

4-H'ers and Sidney High School sophomore Chantal Riggs and Sidney seventh grader William Gay both attended the training for the program held at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln last month.

"It was a good experience," Riggs said.

Riggs, 16, has been a member of the Cheyenne County 4-H for nearly two years. She said she learned about the 4-H Ag Innovators Experience while looking for volunteering opportunities.

"I was nominated for the conference in Maryland, but I didn't get to go," Riggs said. "But I instead got to go to Lincoln."

Gay also attended the conference at UNL with Riggs. The 13-year-old, who just entered his third year with the county 4-H, said he learned a lot during the conference.

"It was all day," Gay said. "About seven or eight hours."

Gill said the 4-H'ers had to come up with their own teaching plan to relay the information they learned to local youth.

"Some of them are doing it in afternoon setting, and other in afterschool workshops," she said. "But these two were overachievers and came to the teachers to ask about teaching their classes. They loved the idea, and we appreciate West Elementary letting us come in and do this."

In their presentations, Riggs and Gay went over the functions of honey bees and the structure of hives, as well as the types of foods that are affected when they are unable to pollenate as much as they used to because of the population decline.

"I think it's a pretty serious problem," Riggs said. "Considering that 75 percent of crops are pollenated by bees, and there's already not enough bees to adequately feed the human population.

"With the human population going up, and the bee population going down, that doesn't mix well."

Both Riggs and Gay taught five science classes throughout the day, with Gay handling fifth grade and Riggs working with sixth graders.

"It's been good," Riggs said. "They seem to enjoy and learn from what I've been teaching them."

Gay said his experience teaching the elementary student had also been positive.

"They've learned a lot and gotten a lot done," he said.

"They're asking good questions," Riggs said. "It's a matter of people just not knowing. They might know that the bees are going away, but they don't know the details and what's actually happening."

Gay said while understanding how honey bees help our food supply is important, he also wants the students to realize that there are things they can do to help the decline in population.

"They can do things to help, like planting flowers and setting up 'no mow' zones where they just don't mow and let natural plants grow for bees to pollinate," he said.

Following the presentation, the elementary students worked in groups to complete the "Honey Bee Challenge," an obstacle course of their own design that was intended to mimick the flight path of a honey bee.

"They use the materials given, which are 20 straws and five cups," Gay said.

Once the obstacle course was set, the students then built small honey bee "brush bots" using the tops of toothbrushes, a watch battery and a small motor.

"And they gave to get their bee robot to the different fields, and then back to the truck," Gay said. "It teaches them about foraging routes and how they find pollen and nectar."

Sixth grader Kadie Brown said she found the presentation and challenge to be a great learning experience.

"It was really fun building the bees," Brown said. "Mine did okay. It's kind of wiggly, though."

Gay said he was impressed at how the students have handled the challenge.

Looking back at the experience, both Riggs and Gay said they enjoyed teaching and were hoping to participate in the 4-H Ag Innovation Experience again next year.

"It's been great presenting (this information) to all of the kids, and having them understand as well," Riggs said.

Anthony Ruiz / The Sun-Telegraph

West Elementary sixth graders Austin Wood, Presley Richards, Landon Mahon and Kadie Brown work together on the "Honey Bee Challenge" to design a route for their bee robots to travel. The challenge is part of the 4-H Ag Innovators Experience.


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