Hundreds of monarch butterflies are making their way to Mexico this month thanks to the care of first grade students and their fifth grade buddies in Westfield’s Tamaques Elementary School. More than 200 butterflies raised by the students were tagged and released with the hope that they will return next year to feast on the special garden created for their development.

The life cycle of the butterfly was nurtured in and out of the school’s classrooms over many months, starting with the planting in the school’s garden of nectar-producing flowers which attract butterflies. Milkweed – the host plant of a Monarch Butterfly -- also was grown for the butterflies to lay their eggs that turned into caterpillars. Next, each caterpillar formed a Chrysalis – a special protective wrap. The final metamorphosis took place in an enclosed indoor environment and the butterflies emerged ready to take flight.    

Parent volunteers Diane Genco, Donna Dwyer and Bianca Wright, who have studied the migration process, worked with Tamaques teachers to ensure the best growing environment for the butterflies. 

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“We reached a 90 percent survival rate indoors; the survival rate in the wild is five percent,”explained Dwyer.

“We are so grateful for these parents leading us – quite literally down this path,” stated first grade teacher Mary Montes. “We have identified eggs on the milkweed leaves, watched the caterpillars grow, observed the forming of many chrysalides – which is incredible to see, witnessed the butterflies emerge, and released them together.” 

In addition to this science exploration, cross-curricula lessons were developed which included writing about the life cycle and documenting observations in garden journals, locating Mexico on maps, learning about migration, and measuring and creating life-size paper Monarchs.

When asked how he felt about the multi-stage project, first grader Charlie Yu responded, “The best part was when the butterflies emerge,” On one of the recent release days, when a butterfly remained on his hand momentarily upon releasing it, he said, “I felt extraordinary!”