#plantmilkweed Save the Monarch!

Six years ago this February, I stood atop a mountain in Michoacan, Mexico and listened to the deafening sound of butterfly wings flapping.  It sounds crazy, but standing amongst millions of black-and-orange butterflies you can actually hear the wings as they beat together.  The monarch rise from oyamel trees en masse as the sun hits the branches, taking off for nectar and water.  You step around thousands of butterflies puddling on the forest floor and still more float through the air above you.

As I stood there, surrounded by millions of monarch butterflies, I couldn’t help but think that Shakespeare was talking about the monarch overwintering grounds when he said, “this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire”.

The forest canopy is alight with golden fire in Michoacan.

Today, my heart is breaking because the Mexican government and the World Wildlife Fund  announced that “the migrating population has become so small— perhaps 35 million, experts guess — that the prospects of its rebounding to levels seen even five years ago are diminishing.”

We can’t lose this:

In 2005 I completed my student teaching with an inspiring cooperating teacher who was a member of the Monarch Teacher Network.  During those first months of school I helped her and the third grade class raise monarchs, release them, and plant milkweed.  We studied monarchs in language arts, geography, social studies, math, and science.  Parents planted milkweed from seeds their children found.  Students raised caterpillars they found in their own backyards.  We stopped class to watch the “pupa dance” as a caterpillar transformed into a chrysalis.  We stopped again when the butterfly, wet and crumpled, emerged from it’s chrysalis days later.  I had never been so inspired and I immediately signed up for the summer workshop that my cooperating teacher had taken.  That summer, I spent 3 days learning about monarch butterflies at a Monarch Teacher Network workshop and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve raised monarch butterflies in the classroom with third graders, sixth graders, and high schoolers.  I’ve spoken about monarchs at schools and libraries.  I stop on the side of the road to check milkweed and I hand out seeds to people I meet.  My father and sister raise monarchs each summer, using the information I gained at the workshop.  And each summer since then I have been a volunteer staff member at at least one Monarch Teacher Network workshop.

But in 2008 I was overcome with gratitude when I received a fellowship to Mexico, where I was given the chance to visit the overwintering grounds (You can read about it here).  It was a life-changing experience and one I hope to repeat someday.

Now I don’t know if that will happen.  Because the monarch population and migration has been depleted.  At an all-time low, the population may be beyond the point of no return.  Yes, weather plays a role in the cycle of the migration, but humans have a much bigger toll.  Development has stopped the spread of milkweed, the only plant monarch caterpillars can feed on.  GMOs have taken over land that milkweed naturally spread to.  We aren’t paying attention and now we may lose the migration, one of the greatest migrations on earth, within a few years.

How can you help?

  • Plant milkweed!  Order some from the suppliers recommended by Monarch Watch, a fabulous organization.
  • Stop taking such good care of your lawn.  Seriously.  It’s terrible for biodiversity.   (See: John Green: Your Yard is Evil)
  • Raise monarch butterflies in your classroom. Because ““In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.” ― Baba Dioum
  • Bring the Monarch Teacher Network to your area!  If you want to bring the workshop to your school, library, or nature center you can email bhayes@eirc.org or call 856.582.7000 x110. They go everywhere!  Give them a call now, as they are scheduling workshops for this summer.
  • Spread the word!  We need this to go viral.  We must protect the migration!

 

 

The Best In-person Professional Development- Monarch Teacher Network Workshops 2012

The best cross-curricular professional development I have ever been a part of was the Monarch Teacher Network’s “Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies”.  I first took the workshop back in 2006 and I still volunteer as a staff leader every summer.  It’s fabulous and I can’t recommend it enough!  Below you will find information about this summer’s workshops in the US and Canada.   (Clicking on the link will take you directly to a registration form for that workshop).

US Dates

June

June 13– 14:    Leesburg, Virginia (Loudoun County, DC Area)

June 14-15:    UC-Santa Barbara; Santa Barbara, California

June 18-19:    Lyonia Environmental Center; Deltona; Florida (Volusia County)

June 18-19:    Coyote Hills Regional Park; Freemont, California

June 20-21:    Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park; Gilroy, California (Santa Clara County)

June 25– 26:    Union Mill and Daniels Run schools in Fairfax County, Virginia (Fairfax County, DC area)

June 25– 26:    Charlotte Country Day School; Charlotte, North Carolina

July

July 30-31:    Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center; Sioux City, Iowa

August

Aug 2-3:    Heartland AEA; Johnston, Iowa (Des Moines area)

Aug 2-3:    Quad Cities Botanical Center; Rock Island, Illinois  

Aug 6-7:    Frankfort Square Park District; Frankfort, Illinois (Chicago area)

Aug 13-14:    William Paterson University; Wayne, New Jersey (Passaic County, NYC area)

Aug 14-15:    Interpretive Center in Freedom Park; Williamsburg, Virginia

Aug 16-17:      Raritan Valley Community College; New Jersey (Somerset County)

Aug 20-21:    EIRC facility; Mullica Hill, New Jersey (Gloucester County, Philadelphia area)

Aug 20-21:    The Boston Nature Center; Mattapan, Massachusetts (Boston Area)

Aug 22-23:    Childrens Museum of New Hampshire; Dover, New Hamphsire

For more information or if there is no registration form available: contact: Brian Hayes at bhayes@eirc.org856-582-7000 x110 or write  Monarch Teacher Network™ at EIRC – MTN, South Jersey Technology Park,  107 Gilbreth Parkway, Suite 200, Mullica Hill, NJ 08062.  fax: 856-582-4206.

Canada

Four Years Ago, I Was In Mexico….

Four years ago this month, I visited the monarch butterfly’s overwintering grounds in Michoacan, Mexico.  Today, the same towns I visited are under attack from drug lords and gangs.  It breaks my heart that travel restrictions prohibit other teachers from traveling there with the Monarch Teacher Network  right now.

To celebrate the beauty and magic of that trip, I wanted to link to the posts I shared after my trip. Join me in reminiscing by reading some of my updates from the trip, linked below.

Monarch Teacher Network: Day 1 in Mexico

Monarch Teacher Network: Day 2 in Mexico

Monarch Teacher Network: Day 3 in Mexico

Monarch Teacher Network: Day 4 in Mexico

Monarch Teacher Network: Day 5 in Mexico 

 

My trip to Mexico, and all of my dealings with the Monarch Teacher Network, made up some of the most powerful professional development I have ever participated in.  I still act as staff at the annual summer workshops here in NJ and I hope to start traveling with some of the workshops in the next few years.  Check out the website- if they are offering a workshop near you I highly recommend it.

The Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe

Stop what you are doing and go pick up this book. The Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe was just the book I needed to get out of my reading slump and I have been recommending it to everyone I know.  I have a personal connection to the story of the monarch butterfly’s migration, but this is a story that many people will identify with.

Luz Avila’s mother abandoned her as a child and she was raised by her Abuela.  Now that she is in her twenties, Luz takes care of her grandmother.  She works a factory job, dreaming of the day she will be able to go back to school.  But the job pays the bills and lets her grandmother live life relatively worry-free.  But when Abuela suddenly announces that she wants to take Luz home, to visit their family in Mexico, it breaks Luz’s heart to have to say no.  She promises that they will go one day, after they save the money and pay off a few more bills.  Abuela dies before plans can be made, and Luz is plagued with regret.  Then she wakes up a few days after the funeral and sees an out-of-season monarch butterfly in the garden that her abuela so loved.  It’s a sign, and Luz takes it to heart.  For the first time in her life, she throws caution to the wind and lives life spontaneously.  In a few short days she is in an old, beat-up VW bug on her way from Milwaukee to Mexico.  She carries Abuela’s ashes with her, planning to scatter them in the monarch sanctuaries near her family’s ancestral home in Angangueo, Mexico.

This is a quest story, a journey, both spiritually and physically.  Along the way Luz meets women who leave an imprint on her life and her heart, changing the way she looks at the world.  Each woman alters the flight path a little more, but they all enrich Luz’s life.  And when her mother reappears in her life, Luz must decide which way to fly.

As a monarchaholic, I know this book would affect me deeply.  But I also believe the casual reader will find themselves immersed in the tale of the monarch butterfly.  And the descriptions!  Oh, the language in this book!  I’ve been to Angangueo, to the sanctuaries, and I’ve visited Alternare in Michoacan.  Reading The Butterfly’s Daughter transported me back to the dusty dirt roads high in the Transvolcanic Mountains.  I could smell the fresh blue corn tortillas and hear the sound the butterfly wings beating in the blue sky.  The language of the Purepuchuan people rings in my ears even now.  (Read about my time in Michoacan).  Monroe traveled to the sanctuaries with Monarchs Across Georgia, a group very similar to my beloved Monarch Teacher Network, and the authenticity of her book speaks volumes about that trip.  I could not put the book down.

Highly, highly recommended.  Published for adults, but with definitely crossover YA appeal.

*copy purchased by me  

 

 

Want to visit the sanctuaries?  Read my post about an amazing professional development opportunity for teachers!

Monarch News

Just a few links to some monarch butterfly news.  The migration is reaching farther north each week, and I am hoping to see my first monarch sometime soon!

  • The latest Journey North update has maps of the monarch sightings and milkweed growth over the past week.  You can sign up to get the weekly updates via email.
  • The New Jersey School-Age Care Coalition has just posted a guide to creating a butterfly garden in NJ school yards, as part of it’s Afterschool Care programs.  The brochure is detailed and includes some fantastic ideas.
  • Sign up for Pollinator LIVE! On May 12, 2010, you can join a live webcast from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET. Participants can drop in at any time during this full day of webcasts to learn about pollination, pollinators, participatory science projects, the latest about monarch butterflies, and how to attract pollinators to your schoolyard. Experts will answer your students’ questions.  You can also view the webcasts later on the website, which I will be doing with my classes on Thursday.  (Students have a half day Wednesday, so we can’t participate live.)

And if you are interested in getting involved with the Monarch Teacher Network (like me!), there are workshops being offered all over the country.  Check out the program’s website and the registration form here.

Workshops 2010

June Workshops

[  ] June 14-15:   Naples Botanical Garden; Naples, Florida (Collier County)

[  ] June 15-16:   Leisure Park Elementary School; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma (Tulsa area)

[  ] June 21-22:   Region 14 Education Service Center; Abilene, Texas

[  ] June 23-24: Harper Park Middle School; Leesburg, Virginia (Loudoun County, DC area)

[  ] June 28-29:   Parkdale High School; Maryland (Prince Georges County, DC area)

July Workshops:

[  ] July 26-27: Webster Hill School; West Hartford, Connecticut

[  ] July 29-30: The Advent School; Boston, Massachusetts

August Workshops:

[  ] Aug   2-3:      Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center; Sioux City, Iowa

[  ] Aug   5-6:      Sacred Heart School; West Des Moines, Iowa

[  ] Aug   5-6:      Knox Agri-Center; Galesburg, Illinois (Peoria area)

[  ] Aug 11-12:    Living Classrooms; Washington DC (Stuart Hobson MS)

[  ] Aug 16-17:    William Paterson University; New Jersey (Passaic County, New York City area)

[  ] Aug 17-18:    Hartshorn Arboretum (Essex County, New York City area)

[  ] Aug 19-20: EIRC facility; Mullica Hill, New Jersey (Gloucester County, Philadelphia area)

[  ] Aug 19-20: Peabody Museum; Yale University, Connecticut (New Haven Area)

Also, the Voices program is expanding!  There is a workshop being offered in June in Texas.  I so wish I could go.  For more information, check out the website.  You can also see my students’ Voices project on the blog a few years ago, along with the book we made.

Monarch Butterflies, Milkweed, and Migration….

I just finished watching the Insect episode of LIFE on Discovery.  If you haven’t been watching this series, you are seriously missing out.  It is absolutely incredible.

The footage of the monarch migration was stunning and incredible.  Definitely made me “homesick” for Michoacan.  I visited the oyamel forests in Michoacan, Mexico in February 2008.  It was a life-chanigng experience.  The experience was spiritual and standing amongst millions of fluttering wings, the only sound their quiet flapping, was the closest I have ever felt to God.  It’s an experience I wish everyone could live.

Now, the monarchs are in trouble.  The combination of the floods in the reserves this winter and the habitat destruction in the US are forcing the monarchs to disappear.  Due to the deaths from the severe weather in the reserves, scientists think it will take at least 2 years (maybe more) for the population to return to the levels of earlier this year.  Unfortunately, this year’s population was already obscenely low and lower than the last few years.  So we need to do what we can to help.  Planting milkweed is huge and many organizations, like Monarch Watch, are starting campaigns to inform people of the importance of planting milkweed.

There have been numerous news reports on the monarch crisis.  Check out the GMA and CBS News videos.  Tonight’s episode of LIFE seems to have gotten the attention of a lot of people, too.  The Facebook messages and Twitter responses I got from friends and family after the episode aired were awesome.  I had no less than 10 people send me messages asking me things like, “You’ve been there, right?  It looked incredible!  I’d love to go someday”.  How awesome is that?  Airing the footage of the reserves in HD seems to have made a huge difference.  The footage itself was short but stunning.  Hopefully there are many more people out there who thought the same thing and will look into visiting and along the way will learn about planting milkweed, helping the migration, etc.  :)  Even if they never get to Mexico, the monarchs will be in a better position.  And that is something we all benefit from.

To Come and Go Like Magic by Katie Pickard Fawcett

I’ve had an *interesting* week, to say the least.  So when I opened a packed from Random House and saw a book with monarch butterflies on the cover, it was like it was meant to be.  The book had not even been on my radar, but I settled in to read it.

Told in a series of vignettes, To Come and Go Like Magic is the story of twelve-year-old Chili Sue Mahoney. Growing up in 1970’s Kentucky in Appalachia country, Chili dreams of growing up and getting out. Her family and friends can’t understand why she would want to leave home but Chili can’t understand why they won’t let her. But when Miss Matlock is brought in as the new 7th grade substitute teacher, Chili and her friend Willie Bright are both excited. Miss Matlock has traveled around the globe. Town gossips can’t understand she’s come back to the town she grew up in after all this time. Both children are forbidden to befriend her but eagerly start spending time at her house, despite the rumors. As the three spend time together, Chili learns about the world outside Appalachia- rain forests, jungles, foreign lands. But Miss Matlock also teaches her that there’s more to Mercy Hill, Kentucky than Chili gives it credit for: there is beauty all over Mercy Hill, in the most unexpected places.

The vignette style serves this book well. The story flows well without seeming disjointed. At the same time, the reader is able to move through time with Chili without getting bogged down in mundane details. The vignettes reminded me a lot of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Both focus on a different culture and share the stories through small stories. While Appalachia isn’t a different “culture” for some, it is drastically different from the environment of my students.

There was only one point that bugged me in the story, and most likely no one else will notice. The time period is given as 1970’s Kentucky. However, Miss Matlock tells Chili about the monarch butterfly migration to Mexico. It wasn’t until 1976 that Dr. Fred Urquhart published his findings of the monarch migration in National Geographic. I guess the story could take place in the late 1970’s, but that small detail nagged at me throughout the book. Most people didn’t know about the migration to Mexico until well after the 1970’s and the actual location wasn’t shared by Dr. Urquhart until many years later.

Regardless of the monarch connection (a very small one), this was a great story and one I look forward to recommending to my students.

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

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