Honeybee Heroes: Carter Latendresse at Catlin Gabel School

Catlin1by Katie Boehnlein
Cwithbeearter Latendresse is the sixth grade English teacher at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, OR. In addition to his classroom courses, which focus on fostering social responsibility in his students through ancient and contemporary literature, Carter is also the Garden Coordinator at the school. The Catlin Gabel Garden Club tends 2,000 square feet of organic gardens on its 60-acre campus, a 50-tree fruit orchard, and as you have probably guessed, honeybee hives. Catlin Gabel has earned itself a reputation in the Portland Metro area as a progressive institution that encourages all of its students, aged Pre-K to 12th grade, to think deeply and learn through experience. Carter embraces this philosophy, harvesting from and working in the school’s gardens as part of his English curriculum.

Catlin3Catlin Gabel also has a history of hosting honeybee hives on its campus, as a few teachers in the 1970s kept their hives on the school’s lush grounds, but the school hasn’t had a working hive run by staff and students in quite some time. Troubled by issues such as global agribusiness, monocropping, processed food, global warming, and desertification, Carter was motivated to install a beehive in the school’s orchard, which is located on the periphery of campus, away from the normal walking paths. He hoped that by having this hive on the campus, students could learn more about local food sources, biodiversity, and organic gardening first-hand. After receiving permission from both the facilities and grounds departments, who were immediate supporters, he recruited four fellow colleagues to take a beekeeping class in Hillsboro and a few weeks later, they set up the hive.

Catlin_BrianSince then, the beekeeping activities on campus have received a very positive reception. All four school divisions have been involved in visiting the hive, from quiet Kindergardeners to boisterous fifth graders to sixth graders learning hands-on beekeeping skills with Carter. For most of these visits, Carter has set up an observational tent with four mesh walls. This allows an entire classroom to watch the goings-on in the hive without danger of being stung. Many teachers have also been involved in tending the hive, from elementary teachers to the middle school Chinese teacher to the school-wide food services director to the head of the grounds crew to high school science teachers. Many people on campus have seen the beehive as an opportunity to learn more about a very pressing topic and involve their students directly in a solution.

Catlin2The apiary project at Catlin Gabel School is only continuing to grow, aided by little opposition to the project and a great interest from students and staff on campus. According to Carter, “Once people hear that we know who is allergic to bee stings and that we have plans, fear melts away.” He would like to increase the school’s apiary to three hives next spring, following a strategy of organic beekeeping that allows one hive to be actively producing honey, one on the rise, and allows one to dwindle. Carter has been able to tie the hive into his classroom lessons on seeds, flowers, pollination, and organic local school garden food. In conjunction with these lessons, his classes are able to go out into the observational tent as well as try out their beekeeping skills wearing a veil and gloves. Of his students, Carter says, “They love the bees—it’s both an exciting and relaxing experience, especially for those with their hands on the hive.” Twice every seven days, Carter offers a Gardening and Beekeeping activity block in the middle school, which will allow ten students to be actively involved in the gardens and with the beehive.

Carter was recently selected by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) to be part of the 2013-2014 Teachers of the Future program. He is one of 25 teachers nation-wide who “inspire academic excellence in students and serve as opinion leaders among their colleagues and peers,” hallmarks of high quality education for the 21st century. As part of this honor, Carter is creating a video about the beekeeping program at Catlin Gabel School, to share beekeeping tips with colleagues nationwide who are interested in keeping bees on campus. He is being aided by Portland beekeeper Brian Lacy, another one of our Honeybee Heroes, as well as his other fellow Catlin Gabel beekeepers. He is hoping that this video will educate fellow NAIS teachers about the importance of beekeeping and empower them to start their own apiaries. The video, which you can watch here, serves to feature the interdisciplinary learning program at Catlin Gabel School as well as guide teachers through a step-by-step process of starting an apiary on their campuses. Carter is an inspiring teacher who is truly helping his students better connect with the world around them. He encourages them to find solutions to their own problems, large and small, through both studying literature and by getting their hands dirty in a garden. Speaking to the Oregonian newspaper about his role as a teacher, he says, “What can we do as teachers is impart lessons to kids that allow them to have hope but while also confronting these huge problems. For every problem, we try to present a solution and we try to allow them to do it.”

Katie Boehnlein is a writer/intern for CLEARING magazine and teaching assistant at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon. She enjoys writing about the endless expressions of place-based education, inspired by so many creative teachers. Katie blogs about her own ecological and urban adventures at “In the Midst,” which can be found at kboehnlein.wordpress.com.