Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Monarch Education

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.  
--William Blake

Male Monarch on Milkweed

My students will have the rare opportunity to speak on the house floor of our State Capitol in support of making the monarch (Danaus plexippus) our state insect.  It's bill SB812.  Aric Nesbitt, our state representative, presented the bill to the floor last week after receiving letters and signed petitions from interested people like us.  The bill will go to committee and my students will testify in favor of it.  The opportunity for my students to participate in the democratic process in this way is amazing and I'm so excited for them!

We raised 20 some monarchs in our classroom this fall.  The eggs and caterpillars were all wild natives of South Haven.  After taking a workshop on monarchs and raising them at home, I'm pretty good at spotting eggs and caterpillars on the milkweed that they inhabit.  Studying the monarch has not only taught us about insects, habitat, adaptation and migration; it has also brought joy into our educational setting.  We had the rare opportunity to watch a caterpillar (larva) move into its chrysalis (pupa) stage and watch a butterfly emerge from the chrysalis.  Those moments were spellbinding for all of us.  We studied their milkweed habitat and the other animals that inhabit the milkweed patch.  We learned about their life-cycle and their amazing 2,000 mile migration crossing the borders of Canada, the United States and Mexico.  We studied their population growth over time.  This spring we cheered when the population grew from the previous years' numbers and we worried when we heard of the ice storms that hit Mexico shortly after the monarchs started heading north.  We wrote a class non-fiction book and poetry in honor of this amazing insect.  In short, I think we grew to love it, as one does when one studies and cares for anything in nature.

I remember a few summers ago, I was getting ready for a new school year and a family asked if they could stop by and meet me before open house and classes started.  The student was labeled autistic and he struggled in social situations.  I was happy to meet him and his family before the craziness of the school year began.  The student's dad spoke very little English and the student was extremely quiet.  Although my classroom wasn't all set up, I did have a chrysalis in a rearing cage and a map of the monarch migration route posted nearby.  As I was showing the family the classroom the dad became more and more interested in the rearing cage and map.  He finally pointed to the map and more specifically to Michoacan, the monarch overwintering site in Mexico, and he said that was his home.  I was in awe.  I asked him, "I have heard it said, that the monarchs carry the souls of those who have passed and they are part of the Day of the Dead celebrations in those parts, is that true?"  He smiled really big and nodded his head yes.  It was a wonderful moment.  My new student also started to study the map and then he started talking about animals he liked and pets that they had. . . That little chrysalis had become the perfect ice breaker.  Who would have thought?  The monarch not only crosses geographical borders, but it also has the potential to cross relational borders.  On that day, the monarch was a wonderful ambassador building connections between me and my student and his family.  I share this story, but I have many other examples of  how this amazing insect has enriched my life and others in a variety of ways.  What a perfect insect to represent our great state of Michigan!

The study of an insect may seem less important than the many issues of our day, but I firmly believe that it is in the studying of things close at hand that we truly learn and grow in this world.  I am thankful for the lessons this amazing insect has taught me and my students.  I am also thankful to Ilse Gebbard (Kalamazoo) and the good people at Monarch Teacher Network (New Jersey).  Their work and dedication to the monarch is making this world a better place, one insect and one human at a time.

"One should pay attention to even the smallest of crawling creatures, for these too may have a valuable lesson to teach us, and even the smallest ant may wish to communicate to man."  
--Black Elk, Lakota Nation