9/25/13 Kids bid seven butterflies adios

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Alexander Wilson Elementary School teacher assistant Kay Story, left, and kindergartner Kaiden Simons, right, watch Monday as third-grader Lane Whitfield releases a monarch butterfly next to the school’s butterfly garden.

Sam Roberts / Times-News

Alexander Wilson Elementary School teacher assistant Kay Story, left, and kindergartner Kaiden Simons, right, watch Monday as third-grader Lane Whitfield releases a monarch butterfly next to the school’s butterfly garden.

Kids bid seven butterflies adios
‘No child left inside’ as students send monarchs off to Mexico
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 9/25/13  
Reprinted with permission.


   SWEPSONVILLE — About 600 kids gathered outside to give a send-off to seven butterflies headed for Mexico on Monday afternoon at Alexander Wilson Elementary School.

   “What do we love, kids?” called fifth-grade teacher Daniel Flack through a bullhorn. “Butterflies!” the shouts came back. “What kind?” Flack asked. “Monarchs!” the students shouted. “When I was your age, I didn’t know what monarchs were,” Flack said. “That’s awesome.” A big cheer went up as the last of the big orange and black monarch butterflies flew low over the heads of students on the edge of the crowd in the school’s courtyard.    It is called the E.C.O., or Educating Children Outdoors, Campus.

   The E.C.O. has a butterfly garden, with plants butterflies like, a frog and toad habitat, a boggy little garden, nature trails and an outdoor classroom.

   “We call it no child left inside,” said Renee Putnam, teacher assistant and trained monarch handler.

   Flack said volunteers such as the Eagle Scouts and a grant from Lowe’s provided most of the labor and funding for the outdoor campus.

   “It just shows you can do a good job of educating kids even in a time of crisis,” Flack said.

   The kids got to watch the butterflies grow from eggs after Melissa Harrelson, the school’s technology teacher, found 23 different stages of monarch caterpillars and seven monarch eggs near her home, south of the school.

   She had help from teacher assistants Putnam and Kay Story.

   During the summer, they took a Monarch Teachers Workshop in Asheville, so they knew what to look for and what to do with it when they found it.

   They learned there are not as many monarchs as there used to be. There are a few reasons, like logging in Mexico, but in this part of the world, it is the decline of milkweed. That is what the butterflies lay their eggs on and what the caterpillars eat.

   Pesticides kill off a lot of milkweed, and farmers want to get rid of it because it is bad for livestock.

   So the butterflies have a better chance if someone helps out.

   These butterflies had sticker tags, about the size of a small pearl, a technique from Monarch Watch, part of the University of Kansas.

   These tags are how researchers originally figured out the butterflies migrate all the way to Mexico. They are the only kind of butterfly in the world known to migrate like birds.

   Of course, it takes several generations for the short-lived insects to make the sometimes 3,000-mile route.

   Story said the Monarch Watch website, monarchwatch.org, has a list of nurseries selling milkweed plants raised without pesticides. Planting them just about guarantees having monarchs show up.

   Having the eggs and caterpillars in the school’s “monarch watch station” gave the kids a chance to see the complicated life cycle between egg and butterfly up close.
   The students “oohed” when Story brought the seven mature butterflies out to the courtyard in a cage made from a net and two wooden hoops.

   A student from each grade, from kindergarten to fifth, lined up on a dais. Story and Putnam placed the butterflies gently in their hands, and once on a girl’s nose.

   The kids released them one at a time while the student body “oohed” and cheered as the butterflies flew off over the school’s roof.