Beekeeping helps Ohio teen overcome learning hurdles

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio (AP) — In a few short years, Jacob Shuman has been transformed from a child who struggled to learn to a teenager who excels at teaching.

And, in large part, his progress is because of bees.

The 17-year-old Chillicothe resident recently won a Youth in Action award and a $10,000 scholarship from the National 4-H Council for a program he created, called TEACH Bs, that educates people about the importance of honeybees. He attended an awards gala in April in Washington.

Shuman has one more year of high school, then plans to go to college. Several large companies have already expressed an interest in hiring him.

The fact that he once was behind in school, beset by learning disabilities that often left him in tears and feeling like a failure, seems like a distant memory.

“For me as a parent, there are not words to describe how I feel at this point about his accomplishments and the changes he’s gone through and the path I see for him in the future,” said his father, Joe Shuman.

Joe and his wife, Jo, adopted Jacob from Guatemala when he was 5 months old. The Shumans were told only that the birth mother was impoverished and drank a lot.

As he began school, his learning difficulties emerged. He struggled with memorization as well as math, but showed some unusual patterns: He could add but not subtract, for example.

Counselors and specialists told the family to be patient, that Jacob would grow out of it. When he didn’t, the boy’s frustration grew.

“To me, I felt weak,” Jacob said. “I felt like I let my parents down, basically. Sometimes I thought to myself, ‘Why am I doing this? I feel like I’m not going to get anywhere in life.’ “

By the fifth grade, Mr. and Mrs. Shuman determined that their oldest son had fetal alcohol syndrome. Their two younger sons, twins Jason and James, now 14, were also adopted from Guatemala but have no health issues.

Armed with a diagnosis, Jacob pursued accommodations at school, such as having teachers read him test questions, which helped him overcome his text anxiety.

Meanwhile, his mother had signed Jacob up for 4-H when he was 6, and he enjoyed it, moving from projects on meteorology to goats to insects.

In 2013, he talked his mother into starting a beekeeping project. They purchased a package of bees and set up a hive down the hill from their house.

Jacob and his parents have no logical explanation for what happened next, except that something clicked.

“He found his passion,” Joe Shuman said.

His grades improved, and his confidence grew. Jo Shuman said her son learned to be an advocate for himself: If he didn’t understand something in class, he would raise his hand, rather than stay silent.

The Shumans said 4-H in general gave Jacob an alternative learning path in a nurturing environment.

From one hive in 2013, the project grew to two, then eight and now 12 hives, housing more than 200,000 bees.

“I find them as an interesting insect,” Jacob said. “Honeybees are very intelligent, and if we lose the honeybees, we wouldn’t have the fruits and vegetables that we eat today. So that’s why I think that insect is important to me, because they play a major role in our agriculture and society.”

In January 2015, Jacob and Jo attended an annual 4-H national youth summit for agriscience in Washington. They learned of the Youth In Action scholarship program, for which all applicants are required to develop an educational initiative.

Three months later, Jacob launched TEACH Bs— or Teens Educating Adults and Children about Honey Bees. Since then, he has spoken to groups ranging from kindergartners to veteran farmers.

“He came to my classroom last year and did a presentation, and he was fabulous; he was right on top of it,” said Angie Maier, a kindergarten teacher at Unioto Elementary near Chillicothe.

“He’s just a really nice, mannerly, respectful young man; and you can tell he’s going to do great things.”

As the agriculture and natural resources educator for the Ohio State University Extension in Ross County, Chris Bruynis has worked with Jacob on several projects in recent years.

He said companies such as Monsanto and Bayer, which manufacture pesticides and insecticides, have told the teen, “Go get a degree, and when you’re done, come see us.”

They are interested in bee researchers, Bruynis said, to help them develop products that are not harmful to bees.

Jacob, who will be a senior at Unioto High School in the fall, wants to attend OSU’s Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster after he graduates. He would like to study under noted researcher Reed Johnson, an assistant professor of entomology there.

Jacob has attended several beekeeping seminars at which Johnson spoke.

“It’s really exciting to have younger people interested in beekeeping,” Johnson said. “It will be great to have someone with his interest and background in our courses.”

Amid the awards and talk of a promising future for himself, though, Jacob recently gave a very different presentation.

Speaking to his peers in the Ross County 4-H club, he revealed to them his struggles with fetal alcohol syndrome.

“I felt the need to tell other kids, ‘Yes, you may struggle, but it doesn’t mean you can give up too easily. You can go out and get something done.’ “


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch,

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