Mireille Hess, a third-grade teacher at Edgewood Elementary in Greenfield, Wisconsin, was a winner of Natural Habitat Adventures' first-ever Monarch Butterfly Scholarship Grant—an opportunity awarded to exemplary environmental educators to travel to Mexico and observe millions of monarch butterflies during their winter hibernation as part of the Kingdom of the Monarchs adventure. Here, Mireille shares how she uses her experience to inspire her students.
When I applied for the grant, I knew a lot about the monarch. But after my amazing experience in the sanctuary, I understood more than ever that we are all in this together. Mexico, Canada, the US, and every one of us needs to come together to save this incredible species. My experience in Mexico renewed my sense of urgency to educate people about the monarch and about the importance of planting milkweed and native flowering plants. It's going to take all of us, especially in the Midwest, working together to plant native flowers and milkweed to save this migration.
Where I live in Wisconsin, the monarchs arrive at the end of May, stay all summer, and begin their migration in early September, if not sooner. I spend my summers educating groups of people and whoever will listen about the monarch. I kick off my school year with an in-depth study of the monarch. I enjoy having students raise a small caterpillar into an adult butterfly and tag and release the butterfly. Unfortunately, with the population of monarchs continuing to decline, I can't always collect enough caterpillars for every student, so I don't necessarily get to carry out this activity each year. During this unit, students discover the issues the monarchs face. Children love to help so we put together a plan for something they can do—planting milkweed, petitions to stop using pesticides, etc. These lessons are part of a greater migration unit, where students study a grand migration that an animal takes and then make an action plan to help it flourish.
Our children will be facing many issues relating to climate change and species survival. To get people to care about something enough to make changes in their own lives, they have to see it and experience it. I hope that raising and releasing a butterfly is an experience
they're not likely to forget. After traveling to Mexico, I realized it's just as important to learn about the other people that want to save the monarch, as it is to learn about the monarch. When everyone comes together, creative solutions can be found. Conservation is more than just loving an animal; it's taking action in a meaningful and respectful way.