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Von Cappeln, or Mrs. VC as the kids know her, is a first grade teacher at Snoqualmie Elementary School who's chosen to introduce her class to the Great Sunflower Project. (Image courtesy GreatSunflower.org)

Stingers don't get in the way of Puget Sound classrooms, backyards helping bees

You've probably heard that America's bee population has a problem. They're calling it "Colony Collapse Disorder" and it's affecting bee populations across the country.

There's an effort that stretches from the Puget Sound across the country to try and figure out why it's happening - and it involves kids and adults of all ages.

"When I talk to the kids with this lesson we talked about, that the world has a problem. I tell them not to be to sad, because they will be able to be part of a solution," said teacher Sue von Cappeln.

Von Cappeln, or Mrs. VC as the kids know her, is a first grade teacher at Snoqualmie Elementary School who's chosen to introduce her class to the Great Sunflower Project.

She gives each of her students a sunflower seedling they can plant at home then asks them to track the bees that visit over the summer through a website that's compiling information from students all over the country.

"I think it's awesome, I think it helps them to see that they can be scientists - science isn't just done in a lab some place. But it can be done right in their backyard," said von Cappeln.

Another bee project is underway in backyards around Seattle through the Urban Pollination Project at the University of Washington.

"Unlike a lot of other projects which are observational where folks go out and report what they see, ours is experimental and we give people different experimental treatments to do with tomato plants that we give them," explained UW graduate student Marie Clifford.

According to Clifford, they ask some people to keep their plants netted, so no bees can visit, to leave others open to the elements and they ask some volunteers to actively pollinate the plants themselves.

"We're giving away 400 plants. I think at last count we had 95 people involved, including a number of educators around the city that are each getting more plants so they can do it with their students," said Clifford.

All this effort just to track bees. Clifford said it's important because while we know bees are declining nationally we don't know too much about our local population.

"Specifically in the Puget Sound region - that's something that Urban Pollination Project is trying to figure out: How the native population of bumble bees are doing here and also what kind of land use practices are affecting that."

As for the students in von Cappeln's classroom, the only thing that might stand in their way are the stingers at the far end of their little subjects. But she says it doesn't take the kids too long to get over their fear.

"I think when they realize there are no fruits or vegetables, or honey, or flowers, they get the idea and they think beyond that."

You can find out more about the Great Sunflower Project here and discover more about the Urban Pollinization Project here.

Editor's note: The author of this article has a child in the classroom of the featured educator.


Kim Shepard, KIRO Radio Reporter
Kim Shepard is a news anchor and reporter for KIRO Radio and the office optimist. She's energetic, quick to laugh and has a positive outlook on life.
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