Chimacum lands honor as first ‘Bee City USA’ school

Chris Tucker
Posted 6/13/17

A Chimacum High School teacher who was recently name a Teacher of the Year is using a hands-on approach to teach students about bees and put the high school on a nationwide bee-friendly map.

Gary …

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Chimacum lands honor as first ‘Bee City USA’ school


A Chimacum High School teacher who was recently name a Teacher of the Year is using a hands-on approach to teach students about bees and put the high school on a nationwide bee-friendly map.

Gary Coyan has worked for seven years at Chimacum’s high school and middle school, where he teaches the horticulture, foods and art classes.

Chimacum High School (CHS) was recently named as the first high school in the nation to be a “Bee City USA” school. And Coyan was named a Washington State Teacher of the Year by Olympic Educational Service District 114.

“Bee City USA started with select cities wanting to make a commitment to pollinator health because bee numbers were declining,” Coyan said, “and mostly commercial bee numbers … the commercial sector made up the majority of the beekeepers.”

Coyan saw that colleges were becoming bee campuses and thought, “Hey, we have bees on campus. We should do this. So, we’re the first high school in the nation to be a bee campus.”

At the end of the year, CHS’s Bee City USA program is to be reviewed to prove that it meets the Bee City criteria. Coyan said the school has already met the requirements.


“Honeybees, in particular, account for one in three bites of food that we eat,” Coyan said as he gave a tour of the school’s four-beehive apiary June 1.

There’s a photograph on the web, he said, that illustrates what life might be like without bees working to pollinate crops. It shows the interior of a grocery store, but with the store’s shelves mostly empty.

“If you like good food … you want honeybees in your life,” Coyan said.

Bees are a way to link his horticulture and foods classes, he said, as he views those classes as simply being different aspects of the same system.

“I have kids in horticulture take some of the stuff we’re growing in the greenhouse and go cook them in the foods room,” he said.

“And I have kids in the foods class who go out in the greenhouse and grow stuff and learn about where their food comes from. So, the bees were just a perfect way to connect those things together.”


Both the foods and horticulture classes have about 28 students each. Additionally, the school bee club has six students, who don beekeeper suits to help inspect beehives.

Bees buzzed all around Coyan as he walked near the hives. The insects seemed remarkably relaxed.

“They don’t want anything to do with us, really, and as long as you’re not acting aggressively, they’re really chill,” he said of the bees.

He said he’s been stung just one time in two years.

The school garden includes a greenhouse as well as a rainwater catchment system and a worm composting bin. There’s also an arbor that a wood shop student made. Students grow garlic, blueberries, apples, strawberries, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, rhubarb, artichokes, horseradish, herbs and more.

When new bees are installed into a hive, Coyan helps them get started by supplying them with sugar water.

“The foods class makes the sugar syrup in class,” he said.

“We come out here and we feed them and we talk about their progress.”

The bees likely get some of their pollen from groups of orange and yellow flowers on the school grounds. The horticulture class is to plant more wildflowers, Coyan said. He added that the bees very likely are also getting pollen from nearby Finnriver Orchard.

“They’ll go … 2, 3 miles down the valley” to search for pollen, Coyan said.


In past years, bee populations have dropped across the nation as a result of colony collapse disorder, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The disorder causes bees to suddenly abandon a hive. Parasites, harsh weather and pesticides could all adversely affect pollinator health, he said. A lack of access to blooming plants could also be a factor in the disorder.

“They need 60 pounds of honey, more or less, to get through a winter,” Coyan said.


Coyan got his start in beekeeping when he took a beginning beekeeping class with the East Jefferson Beekeepers Association (EJBees).

“They agreed to kind of finance our startup costs for getting a few hives on campus,” he said of EJBees. The school acquired two of the boxy Langstroth hives, which are the most widely used hives in the country.

Coyan didn’t have much luck the first year as the bees died during the exceptionally cold and wet winter.

He decided to try two other types of beehives: the top-bar hive and the Warré hive.

“I thought, ‘You know, just because everyone’s using Langstroth hives, why not see what works best here?’”

So, this year, with grants from the Tri-Area Garden Club, Chimacum Arts and Craft Fair, and the EJBees, the school was able to acquire three different types of hives.


“They’re the three most popular hives … good cross section. And they each have different philosophies on management.”

The Langstroth hive has removable rectangular frames with a plastic honeycomb foundation that the bees build upon.

“There’s already kind of the honeycomb stamped in it, and the bees just build off that foundation. One of the reasons people like that is they could make the cell sizes pretty big, which makes bigger bees, which go out and get more pollen and more nectar and they make more honey.”

The top-bar type of beehive is sometimes called the Kenyan hive.

“It’s kind of supposed to emulate a fallen log,” Coyan said, noting the long and narrow shape of the hive.

“We have windows in our hives so that kids can come out without the risk of being stung and check out what the bees are up to.”

The cover pops off the top-bar hive to allow access to about two dozen removable wood slats. Instead of using a comb foundation, the bees can build their own vertical comb upon each slat.

“They build a nice comb off the bottom of the strip,” Coyan said, lifting one of the slats to reveal a honeycomb covered with bees.

Several of the slats were not being used by the bees yet.

“It’ll actually fill once they get going. That comb will actually fill the whole space in there.”

The Warré hive, the third type of hive the school has, is similar to the Langstroth, but does not use a foundation.

Coyan said the Langstroth was designed to be inspected every 15 days or so, while the Warré is more hand’s-off. With the Langstroth, “you take every frame out, you find the queen, you make sure she’s laying eggs, you make sure there’s larvae. You’re like checking everything if something’s wrong,” he said.

But with the Warré, the beekeeper simply observes the hive from the outside to see if bees are bringing in pollen. If they are, then they’re probably fine.

“This one is cool because it has the peak roof, which is nice in our weather. The Langstroth usually just has the flat roof.”

The Warré hive also has a top-level “quilt box,” made from canvas and wood shavings that keep moisture at bay.

“Bees keep their cluster 90 degrees even through the winter. And that creates a tremendous amount of moisture,” Coyan said.

So much moisture that it can condense on the ceiling of the hive and then drip back down onto the bees.

But with the quilt box, the water goes through the canvas and is absorbed into the wood shavings.


Chief bee expert is just one of Coyan’s many roles at the school. He also serves as adviser for the school’s revived Future Farmers of America chapter. He works as athletic director and assistant track coach, and advises a monthly school newsletter created by students in the horticulture, foods and art classes. It’s called the Chimacum Heritage Newsletter. Students write about field trips or recipes or about what plants are being grown. Art students create a different logo for the letter for each edition. It is distributed on Facebook (search “Chimacum Heritage”) and via email.

For Coyan’s efforts over the years, the school staff nominated him as a Washington Teacher of the Year, an honor that he has since won.

“I can think of no better candidate for Teacher of the Year than Gary Coyan,” wrote CHS Principal Whitney Meissner. “His innovative ideas, connections to community and quiet leadership are nothing short of inspirational. I am thrilled that my own children have benefitted from his teaching and that is truly the mark of greatness: when a principal wants her own kids, and every kid, to be in a certain teacher’s classroom.”


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