Just in time for Earth Day, students at Keller’s Willis Lane Elementary School are helping save monarch butterflies and enjoying the benefits of doing lessons outside in the school’s new outdoor classroom pavilion.
Kids have been going far beyond just learning about monarchs. They have been finding milkweed plants growing around their play areas and transplanting them in the WOLF (Willis Outdoor Learning Facility), the school’s garden and outdoor classroom area.
“Milkweed is important because monarch butterflies lay their eggs on it,” fourth-grader Carter Merrill said. “The larvae are immune, but the plants they feed on make them poisonous to predators.”
Classmate Keeley McPherson added, “If you don’t save the milkweed, all of the monarchs will die.”
Members of the Green Team, the school’s environmental club, hosted an educational program about monarchs attended by more than 50 students and parents. They learned about improving habitats and tagging monarchs. Team members also decorated paper butterflies and sent them with a letter to Keller Mayor Mark Mathews asking him to take the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.
Mathews visited the school April 10 to accept the pledge, which includes efforts such as adding milkweed and nectar-producing plants to city gardens and engaging in habitat preservation in undeveloped areas.
"I'm looking forward to working with these kids on such a worthwhile project," Mathews said. "Keller is a community that loves the outdoors, so doing what we can to protect and promote the Monarch - one of nature's most beautiful creatures - just makes sense.
Jenny McLane, environmental chair for the Willis Lane Elementary PTA, said Green Team students “are very passionate about monarch conservation.”
The primary goal for the Green Team is to take action to help solve environmental problems. Members also help with composting bins and garden chores.
The school’s WOLF became a certified Monarch Waystation (one of four in Keller), which means the garden contributes to monarch conservation. According to the Monarch Waystation Program, two of Keller’s certified gardens are at residences and the third is at Messiah Lutheran Classical Academy. For more information, go to monarchwatch.org.
During recess April 12, McLane helped a group of students identify and dig up an “antelope horns” milkweed plant in the middle of a playing field so it wouldn’t be destroyed by mowing. They replanted it in one of the WOLF’s garden beds. McLane said milkweed can be transplanted into yards or purchased at several area organic gardening centers, including Weston Gardens in Fort Worth and the Painted Flower in Denton.
In addition to the focus on monarchs, the WOLF recently received a $4,000 grant from the Lowe’s Toolbox for Education program and about $2,000 from the school’s PTA and district funds to construct a covered outdoor classroom space.
Two local Boy Scouts added features as part of their Eagle Scout projects. Walker Wright and his team constructed eight benches while Braden Kovach and company built several tile-top tables for outdoor student projects.
Dozens of parents donated time while district crews poured the concrete pad.
Melissa Malone, PTA chair for the WOLF, said classes use the pavilion for math, reading and even writing poetry.
“Being outoors is something they really enjoy, and it’s good for them,” Malone said. “It gives them a brain break.”