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US Fifth Graders Learning Gardening And Help Save the Monarch Butterfly

Eleven-year-old Amelia Jakum loves to observe nature, and gets excited for the discoveries she makes in the garden.

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Monarchs lay their eggs on the milkweed plants the P.B. Smith students grew from seeds in their butterfly garden.
Monarchs lay their eggs on the milkweed plants the P.B. Smith students grew from seeds in their butterfly garden. VOA

P.B. Smith Elementary School in Warrenton, Virginia, is one of a growing number of schools around the United States that have vegetable gardens. Teaching children about gardening gives them a chance to get hands-on experience with growing and eating vegetables, learning about nutrition and nature in the process. Last year, this school’s beautiful, well-kept green space got a valuable addition — a garden filled with plants that attract butterflies.

Learning about butterflies

In class, members of the P.B. Smith Elementary School’s ecology club learn about butterflies — monarch butterflies, in particular. They talk about the need for certain plants for an organism to survive. They learn about life cycles, from eggs to larva, pupa and adult.

But the learning is not complete without the hands-on part. Ecology Club teacher Barbara Dennee said that happens when her class visits the garden. There, they wait patiently to see this life cycle unfold.

The students’ patience was rewarded when monarch butterflies landed in their garden. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants, which have been disappearing due to the use of herbicides and unfavorable weather conditions. That means monarchs have fewer places to stop their migration journey between Canada and Mexico.

“We had probably about a dozen monarchs, and in years past, we never had any,” Dennee said. “So, we feel like we’ve definitely been a good station for the monarchs. Once they emerge from their chrysalis, they fly away. They know where to go. I don’t know how to go to Mexico, but they do. They follow the sun, and the kids have helped them in that.”

A monarch butterfly rests on a milkweed plant in the P.B. Smith Elementary School butterfly garden.
A monarch butterfly rests on a milkweed plant in the P.B. Smith Elementary School butterfly garden. VOA

Observations and discoveries

Eleven-year-old Amelia Jakum loves to observe nature, and gets excited for the discoveries she makes in the garden.

“We saw several swallowtails, caterpillars,” she said. “There is this really fat one that should be turning to chrysalis very soon. I’m quite surprised at how it can turn into chrysalis. And just how does its body form into a beautiful body of a butterfly?”

The kids’ excitement motivated them to learn more about butterflies, how they survive and what plants they feed on, particularly milkweeds.

“That’s the host for the butterfly, the monarch especially,” Dennee explained. “We planted from seeds the milkweed plant. Today, we didn’t see any monarchs, but we did see swallowtail caterpillars. They like dill and parsley. So, the kids learn that different kinds of butterflies are not competing for the food. They live harmoniously.”

Ten-year-old Keenan Whitney said learning about butterflies was an eye-opener.

“I only thought they pollinated one flower, for some reason. But I learned they pollinated a lot of flowers, and that if we didn’t have butterflies, we probably wouldn’t have any food. We wouldn’t be alive,” he said.

When kids become that aware of the interconnections between humans and nature, Dennee said, it means her club succeeded in its mission.

A Black Swallowtail caterpillar nibbles on parsley, a favorite meal.
A Black Swallowtail caterpillar nibbles on parsley, a favorite meal. VOA

“One of our missions for the Ecology Club is to be good stewards of the earth, and they can save this world,” she said. “They can say these words, but they don’t really understand until they actually do something.”

A gift to her old school

When the ecology club created its vegetable garden a couple of years ago, students started to learn how to plant and harvest a variety of herbs and vegetables. They give part of the produce to the school’s cafeteria and donated the rest to a local food bank.

Adding a new garden to attract butterflies was the brainchild of Keely Scott, a former student who has always been involved in school activities and clubs. Last year, the high school student needed a Girl Scout project. She went back to P.B. Smith and created a butterfly garden.

A male monarch butterfly displays the species' distinctive black and orange pattern.
A male monarch butterfly displays the species’ distinctive black and orange pattern. VOA

“We had a butterfly bush at my house,” she said. “We actually had to cut it down when we built our deck, and I missed it so much. I loved looking at the butterflies and to increase its population in our area. I thought I can fix that. So, I developed this idea, and Mrs. Dennee supported me 100 percent.”

School principal Linda Payne Smith said Scott not only presented her old school with a beautiful garden, she also served as a positive role model for its students.

Honeybees also visit the tropical milkweed plants
Honeybees also visit the tropical milkweed plants. VOA

Also read: Is gardening safe in polluted cities? New study says ‘Yes’

“We want the kids to take ownership of those gardens and come back like our senior Keely Scott has come back and created the butterfly garden,” she said. “We hope that their love for the environment started at P.B. Smith, that we have seen it evolve.” (VOA)

Next Story

US Dollar Weakens Amid Gloomy Economic Data

The Australian dollar rose to $0.7105 from $0.7094.

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US Dollar
The dollar index, which measures the greenback against six major peers, fell 0.15 per cent at 96.9817 in late trading. Pixabay

The US dollar declined as the allure of the greenback diminished amid a slew of downbeat economic data.

In late New York trading on Thursday, the euro rose to $1.1299 from $1.1269 in the previous session, and the British pound decreased to $1.2801 from $1.2850 in the previous session, Xinhua news agency reported.

The Australian dollar rose to $0.7105 from $0.7094.

The US dollar bought 110.47 Japanese yen, lower than 110.99 Japanese yen of the previous session. The US dollar was down to 1.0047 Swiss franc from 1.0088 Swiss franc, and it increased to 1.3281 Canadian dollars from 1.3250 Canadian dollars.

US Dollar
The Australian dollar rose to $0.7105 from $0.7094. Pixabay

US retail sales in December fell 1.2 per cent from the prior month, the worst drop in nine years, the Commerce Department reported on Thursday.

The unexpected decline, which came after a downwardly revised 0.1 per cent increase in November, signals a weaker economic momentum.

ALSO READ: US Charges Former Air Force Intel Officer With Spying for Iran

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against six major peers, fell 0.15 per cent at 96.9817 in late trading. (IANS)