Monarch Mondays: Week 2

May 17, 2010

Welcome back to Monarch Mondays! This is our second week of this new guest series. If you missed last week, you can see Mary Lenahan’s wonderful guest post here.

For many years, the Dodge Foundation has supported EIRC in their efforts to provide teachers with environmental experiences that both inspire and empower their classroom work. Our efforts started with the NJ Teachers for Biodiversity but when EIRC launched its monarch butterfly program, we witnessed the meteoric rise of the Monarch Teacher Network (MTN). MTN trains pre-kindergarten to 12th grade teachers, gardeners and naturalists. The training utilizes monarch butterflies to teach a variety of concepts, skills and issues (e.g., science, language arts, geography and cultural studies; character education, global warming and extinction, deforestation, lawn practices/gardening). As the project has spread across New Jersey, other states and Canada, it highlights our shared North American heritage and the need to be responsible stewards of the environment.

We continued to be amazed by the transformative effect of the butterfly’s journey on teachers and their students. Today’s post by Sarita Matari, a PreK Special Education Teacher at Jackson Avenue School in Hackensack, is no exception.

Sarita Matari and Marcos in Mexico monarch sanctuary

By Sarita Matari

“Gotta Go! Gotta Go! Gotta Go to Mexico!” is what I kept reciting in my head after leaving the Monarch Teacher Network workshop at William Paterson University this past summer. I imagined visiting the monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico to interact with the people and experience this magical world. This past February, I was so fortunate to have that dream come true.

When I arrived at the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico, I immediately felt a sense of peace. Then, as I quietly stood, listening to the tranquil sounds of the forest, I heard a tiny voice singing about sweet raindrops and how much fun it would be to catch them one by one. When I turned to find that voice, I saw a butterfly keeper, a naturalist with a gentle hand and a loving smile: Marcos Antonio, an amazing nine year-old child who works with his father at the butterfly sanctuary. Marcos was as calm as the cool wind, and as captivating as the monarchs that flew around me. Through Marcos Antonio’s eyes, I saw the beauty and importance of this tree-covered forest that protects that most gentle of insects, the monarch butterfly. I was in awe as I heard his words express how special the monarch butterflies are to him and his family. It was like tasting the sweet raindrops that he sang about.

This trip changed my life in so many ways. It is an experience that will be with me always, and I will continue to share my stories with all who will listen. My journey with the monarch butterflies will continue as I help people to be like Marcos: a butterfly keeper, a naturalist with a gentle hand and a loving smile.

Nature was once a beautiful place full of wonder and life, a place where our mothers, fathers, and ancestors stood and listened. Sadly, so much nature is disappearing before our eyes, never to be seen again but in memory.

Not long ago, a child in my class asked me, “How can I help Earth? Earth is too big, and I am small”. I simply responded, “I’m so happy you asked. You see, our world has been waiting for you to help. Together we can keep our Earth clean, happy and free.” This was the perfect moment for me to introduce the monarch butterfly and the importance of caring for our environment.

Sarita - Caterpillar rearing tower and Jackson Avenue School Hackensack students

The magnificent monarchs have started their journey back from Mexico. My pre-k students at Jackson Avenue School, also known as our “little scientists,” have been learning about the life cycle of monarch butterflies and how to care for them. They are amazed at how monarchs find their way to Mexico and back to New Jersey without directions or guidance. My students have seen monarch caterpillars hatching from eggs, eating milkweed, and shedding their skins. They have seen a caterpillar become a chrysalis in just a few minutes and witnessed the transformation that occurs inside that chrysalis. Beautiful butterflies emerged before their eyes! My students have created a beautiful butterfly garden for monarchs, an inviting environment of flowers and milkweed that will welcome monarchs back to our school year after year. Additional lessons about keeping our school grounds clean, and recycling, have motivated my students to want to preserve and nurture the world around them. We continue to take small steps to make a huge difference in caring for Earth and the beauty we see outside our classroom windows.

“I want to go to Mexico!”
“Look the caterpillars are getting bigger”
“My mom has a monarch butterfly too!”
“Look, I see milkweed.”

These are just a few of the things I have heard my students say in the classroom. When my students speak of what they saw or discovered through our monarch studies and butterfly garden, it brings me great joy and hope: the joy of knowing that my students will share what they learned, with other people, and the hope that someday my students will play an important role in preserving and caring for our world. My students continue to motivate me, and each other, to make a difference. Although my students are small, together they will achieve something great.

Sarita - Student artwork - Jackson Avenue School  Hackensack NJ

My students created a poem about the monarch butterfly and recited it at our first-ever butterfly release this past fall. It was a huge success!

Orange and Black

Monarchs, Monarchs orange and black

Moving along for miles making your way back

You fly through the air and soar with ease

Quietly you move so gently through the breeze

I’m so happy you will soon be with me

Monarch, Monarchs, I do love to see