Make Way for the Monarchs
Each year Sandy Stein’s class begins with the study of an incredible natural transformation. Last year, students watched monarch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises online, but this year they got to watch and wonder in person. “I’ve been doing this for at least 10 or 12 years,” Sandy explains. “Alexandra’s class does it too. It catches students’ attention… and caring for and appreciating these living things speaks to what I want to teach in my classroom.”
This year the milkweed on campus didn’t attract as many monarchs as it has in the past so some larva had to be mail-ordered, but the butterfly released last Thursday did come from the school. Students noticed the chrysalis hanging off a fixture on the building right near the front entrance and it was taken into Sandy’s classroom for safekeeping during a particularly strong rainstorm. Eventually, a beautiful male monarch emerged.
Any monarchs that emerge in our area right now are part of the “super generation
” that will migrate down to forests in Mexico to over-winter before starting a new generation that begins the great migration cycle all over again.
Lauren, a student in Sandy’s class, shared some of the steps they’ve observed in the various enclosures perched on window sills in the room.
“We have to collect milkweed. We’ve got a lot of baby caterpillars in the classroom and we are making sure they get food. Some of them are soon to make their chrysalis.” Lauren remembers watching via Google Meet when Sandy let butterflies go in her garden last year. Watching in person as one went free last week she was surprised by how “it flew away so fast.”
She explained how “when we let it go we put a tag on it so if someone finds it they know it came from FCS.” FCS is part of a citizen science project through the University of Kansas Monarch Watch program. The butterflies tagged on our campus might be found somewhere along their journey down south or in the oyamel forests in Mexico. These tags are monitored in order to learn more about the migration of these butterflies and the health of their population.
Sandy explains that experiencing the monarch transformation and learning about these fascinating creatures “gives us a common thing to come together around in September. We can all write a story about this thing that happened to all of us and there’s power in that. I tell my students that they’re ambassadors. As their teacher, I’m sending them out into the world as people who care about the earth and its creatures and can make a difference in their lifetime.”