Ray Huard …When second grade teacher Leslie White and her sister found monarch caterpillars in their home gardens, they thought what fun it would be to bring them to school where Johnson’s students could watch them become butterflies.
By the end of the school year, monarch butterflies where flittering everywhere across the Vista Unified School District’s Hannalei Elementary School campus in what Principal Tracy Zachry said has become an ever-growing butterfly garden that has spread far beyond the small plot of ground outside White’s classroom.
“This is a migration path for monarchs, so we decided to build a place for them to come and grow,” Zachry said.
Boy, did they ever come.
“The butterflies are around here like you wouldn’t believe,” said Jessica Pittman, who leads the AM/PM before and after school program at Hannalei.
The kids couldn’t be happier.
“I like to watch the butterflies fly and the caterpillars eat leaves,” said 8-year-old Logan Fulton, who helps nurture the butterfly garden by watering the milkweed plants which are the source of food for monarch caterpillars.
“They’re beautiful and they’re amazing,” said Daniel Guillen, who waters the plants and weeds the garden.
“I like when I see them come out of a chrysalis,” said 8-year-old Areanna Ortega, referring to the hard case caterpillars make to protect them as they transform into butterflies.
Second graders have long studied the life cycle of butterflies as part of their curriculum, but Zachry said that, “Instead of just learning about it in a book or a paper or a video, they’re actually living it day-to-day.”
White said second grade teachers often keep Painted Lady butterflies captive inside large glass jars in their classrooms. The teachers order the butterflies and jars from a mail-order science supply company, but White said this was the first time the students got to watch the metamorphosis of butterflies in their natural habitat.
“They’re so excited,” White said.
The students have taken to their lessons like never before since the butterfly garden started.
Using computer tablets to do research on the butterflies, “Their language is better, they’re using academic words, like emerging,” White said. “It’s carried across the curriculum.”
The students carefully watch as some of the monarch caterpillars crawl across school sidewalks from one plot of ground to another to form their chrysalises on building walls, window sills and butterfly plants, which the monarchs munch on when they emerge.
It turns out, caterpillars devour milkweed, but not the full-grown butterflies, Pittman said.
Pittman, whose twin daughters were Hannalei first-graders for the 2015-16 school year, has become a bit of a butterfly expert, and the AM/PM program is the source of most of the plants in the butterfly garden, contributing $4,000 toward the project.
Each year, Pittman asks students in the program what activities they’d like, and gardening topped their list.
“A lot of them don’t have the opportunity to garden because they live in apartments,” Pittman said. “They just wanted to dig in the dirt, plant the plants, and watch them grow.”
Making it a butterfly garden just added something extra.
“Just about everyone has had their hand in on some part of the garden,” Pittman said. “It’s school-wide.”