High School Builds Apple Orchard to Support Apiary Science Program

West Jefferson Hills School District  |  Posted on

Thomas Jefferson High (TJ) School gifted education teacher Mr. Dan Giger is building upon the success of the Apiary Science Program that was introduced last year by overseeing the planting of a new apple orchard. This October, 10 apple trees were purchased as part of a grant received from the Allegheny County Conservation District to create an orchard in the area adjacent to the district’s bee hives. Last year, Mr. Giger helped the district’s special education secretary and resident beekeeper, Laurie Woodward, mentor a group of 10 -15 students during the high school’s Personalized Learning Time (PLT) on the basics of beekeeping. Mrs. Woodward introduced topics that included such subjects as bee types/anatomy, colony systematics, environmental importance, and threats to bees. In conjunction with the apiary PLT’s, Giger also collaborated with construction technology teachers Ken Gruntz and Matt Betler to assemble a team of students who designed and built a concrete pad and bee shed near the apiary. The shed houses the equipment needed by Woodward to manage the hives and was completed last spring as part of student PLT sessions. It was designed not only to be a focal point and meeting place for future Apiary Science PLT sessions but also as a hands-on learning tool for students who were enrolled in the construction technology classes.

The new orchard will provide the bees with a ready source of nectar and pollen in the spring when the trees bloom to support our ecosystem. There are currently three hives that house approximately 60,000 honey bees within the apiary. According to Woodward, “We harvested around 140 pounds of honey this year from the three current hives. While the pandemic pushed back the timeline of the students getting involved this past spring, classes will be held throughout the winter to educate and prepare students to help manage the hives for the 2021 season. The goal is to split the three hives into five in 2021!”

The overall project also represented a joint effort between past and present TJ students. 2012 TJ graduates Quinten O’Dea and Anthony Pack own and operate Q & A Landscaping and graciously donated their services for excavation, clearing and planting of the 10 apple trees for the new orchard. Q & A Landscaping also provides work study opportunities for our students and employs TJ graduates. Nate Krutules, a current TJHS senior, works after school during the school year and during the summer months at Q & A. “Working with Q and A has been great.” according to Giger. “When I first contacted Quinten about the project he jumped on the opportunity to help. I am extremely happy to see how he and Anthony have become so successful; it’s one of the things that makes teaching so satisfying, seeing former students succeed.”

Besides supporting the bees, the orchard and surrounding area will provide valuable educational opportunities and cross-curricular enrichment for our students studying environmental sciences, beekeeping, and construction technology. Phase two of the apple orchard project includes the development and implementation of a gravity flow irrigation system which Giger hopes to have installed sometime in early November. “None of this could have happened without the overwhelming support of Dr. Ghilani and the school board whom I sincerely thank. Most others would probably consider some of these projects as crazy but they have embraced and supported them without question. I think that it goes a long way toward showing a more eco-friendly vision for the future within our district.”

Dr. Ghilani, superintendent of schools, is proud of the innovative and collaborative efforts put forth by staff members. “Dan and Laurie have done a tremendous job providing our kids with hands-on learning experiences in gardening, beekeeping, construction and conservation efforts that students would not get inside a traditional classroom setting. Their focus on building environmental science educational opportunities is just the next step in our journey of providing these valuable, real-world experiences for our students.”