Montessori Students Build Refuge for Threatened Butterflies

As spring takes hold in the Panhandle, millions of monarch butterflies will begin their annual migration from overwintering grounds in Mexico to spring and summer breeding territory in the U.S. and Canada. Students from the Montessori School of Pensacola, have made it their mission to provide critical habitat for the threatened insects, and they’re learning a lot in the process.

The insects’ 2,500-mile odyssey has long been recognized as one of the most arduous in the animal kingdom. In recent years, the journey has been made even more difficult by habitat degradation and depletion of the butterflies’ food sources.

The Jardin de Mariposas, Spanish for “garden of butterflies,” was the brainchild of Montessori parent and biologist Patty Valentine-Darby. "We really wanted to plant a garden that would attract and provide habitat for a variety of butterflies and other insects and provide learning opportunities for the students," she said.

The garden, planted in the fall of 2013, allows visiting butterflies to rest, refuel on wildflower nectar and lay eggs before continuing north. The school’s efforts were recently recognized by the nonprofit Monarch Watch, which designated the garden an official way station for migrating monarchs.

For the voyage to be successful, access to milkweed is critical. Monarch larvae feed exclusively on this inconspicuous plant, meaning the fates of the two species are tied together. But milkweed habitat is rapidly being destroyed by development and the spread of herbicide-resistant food crops. The Monarch Watch way station program is intended to address this threat.

In the future, the school plans to integrate the garden even more deeply into their curriculum. Plans include coordinating a butterfly release with local specialists during the school’s back-to-school family night in the fall, adding birdwatching stations and other natural elements, and creating additional butterfly gardens on their lower elementary and early childhood campuses. “We feel this certification is significant for our children because it shows them they can have a direct impact on helping the environment we all live in,” says Kruse.

Montessori School of Pensacola (MSP) has been a benchmark for quality education in the greater Pensacola area since 1977, combining the highly respected Montessori teaching methods with proven educational practices to provide a unique learning experience for children 18 months old through eighth grade.


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