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Young Students Build a Station for Monarch Butterflies

Students at P.B. Smith Elementary School’s ecology club are learning about the life and migration of monarch butterflies.

They learn in the classroom about the butterfly’s need for certain plants. They learn scientific words for the stages of a butterfly’s life. But, ecology club teacher Barbara Dennee says they learn the most when they visit their school garden in Warrenton, Virginia. There they wait patiently for the monarch to arrive.

Just recently, monarch butterflies landed in their garden where among vegetables and herbs, the students planted the milkweed plant.

Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants. There are concerns that the plants have been disappearing because of poor weather conditions and the use of herbicides. So, monarchs, which travel between Canada and Mexico during their migration, now have far fewer places to stop.

Dennee explained to her students that planting the milkweed would create a station for the butterfly.

"We talk about the need for a certain plant for an organism to survive. The big one is the milkweed. That is the host for the butterfly, the monarch specifically. And we've planted, from seed, milkweed plants."

Ten-year old Keenan Whitney said he learned the importance of the cycles of nature.

"I only thought they pollinated one flower, for some reason, but I’ve learned they pollinate a lot of flowers and that if we didn’t have butterflies, we probably wouldn’t have any food.”

Students began to learn how to plant and harvest many herbs and vegetables when the ecology club started its vegetable garden a few years ago. They give some of the produce to their school cafeteria and the rest to a local foodbank.

Then Keely Scott, a high school student who once attended Smith Elementary, needed a Girl Scout project. She persuaded the school to add milkweed to the garden to attract butterflies.

"I love looking at all the butterflies and I was like, 'Wow, well we have a decreased population in our area.' And I thought, 'Oh, well I can fix that.' So I developed this idea and Mrs.Dennee supported me 100 percent."

Eleven-year old Amelia Jakub loves watching nature. She is excited about the daily discoveries.

“We saw several swallowtails and caterpillars. And there's this really fat one that should be turning into a chrysalis soon. I’m quite surprised at how it can turn to chrysalis. And just how does its body form into the beautiful body of a butterfly?”

Dennee says her mission is to teach children about the connection between humans and nature. When they understand this, she said, she has succeeded in her mission.

She said the experience of gardening is important. “They can say these words, but they don’t really understand until they actually do something,” she said.

I’m Susan Shand.


Words in This Story

monarch butterfly – n. a large orange and black American butterfly

herb – n. a plant or a part of a plant that is used as medicine or to give flavor to food

chrysalis – n. a hard case that protects a moth or butterfly while it is turning into an adult

caterpillar – n. a small creature that is like a worm with many legs and that changes to become a butterfly or moth

harmoniously - adv. not experiencing disagreement or fighting

mission –n. a task or job given to someone

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