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The Port Arthur LNG sponsored Butterfly Habitat at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Arthur aims to inspire students, the community

The courtyard of Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Arthur ISD will soon be a stopover for monarch butterflies on their annual migration south.

Thanks to a grant from Port Arthur LNG Environmental Champions, sixth- and eighth-grade science teacher Asther Reyes says relatively unused space on the Jefferson campus can now be a place for positive environmental impact. as well as a place where students can have hands-on activities. Research experience.

The grant will fund a monarch butterfly preservation habitat and associated study area located in the schoolyard, eventually creating a Port Arthur stopover station for the butterflies as they migrate south for the winter.

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There will be a grand opening at the habitat site at 8am Saturday at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Arthur.

“The yard was unused,” said Reyes, who wrote the grant application. “It was only used as a way to go to the cafeteria, but you don’t stay there. But we noticed how much the kids love it.”

Reyes said she and other science teachers came up with the idea of ​​using the space for educational purposes, giving students who have been locked down for the past two years due to the pandemic a chance to learn. outside.

The project will also give students a better understanding of how the environment works, Reyes said.

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“Our main motivation is to bring them something fun,” she said. “And at the same time, they see themselves playing an active role in raising awareness and protecting the environment.”

When monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico each fall, one of the paths they take is through central and southeast Texas, Reyes said.

“According to research, seven out of 10 (butterflies) will survive (the migration),” she said. “Butterflies are like barometers of our environment. If the environment or area is polluted, they don’t come, they don’t visit.”

The new garden will consist of milkweeds, annuals and perennials and should facilitate the growth of the monarch butterfly population.

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“We’re going to do the (butterfly) garden. Once we’ve done the garden, it’s a breeding ground,” she said. “Monarchs have a way of communicating to each other that there is a feeding station.”

Reyes said they would start by putting butterfly larvae in the garden and tagging them as they grow to calculate the number of butterflies breeding there.

“If they fly from one area to another, we could keep that energy going and keep going,” she said. “Their feeding process is going to feed our flowers, our plants, our vegetables, our trees and that feeds the environment. Children don’t understand that – yes, it’s just a butterfly, but do you know how many pollination they do (who) gives us vegetables, the food you eat? That’s how we survive as humans.

Reyes said it was important to her as an educator, but also as another living person on the planet, that her students understand the environment and the impact humans have on it.

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“They can see themselves as, ‘I helped on this, I did something for our planet, I did something for our home,’ which is bigger than me, bigger than what I learned in class. It’s not very big, but I think it’s a way of giving back what nature has given us.”

The adults in the students’ lives will also benefit from their learning, Reyes said.

“Monarch butterflies don’t come if there’s so much pollution and we’re aware of what’s going on around us,” she said. “If adults can see that, then adults become more responsible for kids. If kids can stand up for what their future home is, what their home is (now), I think adults would help too.”

Reyes said she hopes the habitat will be completed by August, just in time for the new school year.

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“We have a STEM class here and the STEM class will focus on (studying) how plants (in the garden) affect (butterflies),” she said. “We’re going to do the tagging of the monarchs and send the data to Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. We want to teach kids to do more in-depth research.”

Students entering sixth grade are already aware of the cycle of life, Reyes said. But having this habitat on campus will allow students to see it in action and understand all the factors that can affect it.

“These butterflies are the ones that will provide us with flowers that will nourish our vegetables, our plants, our food, our trees and nature itself,” she said. “They maintain the balance of nature. If they don’t come, it’s a warning. It’s a warning that something is happening. If we see them, we see hope. They are an indicator that, ‘Oh, you get it’s true.'”

Thomas Jefferson Middle School principal Kristi Lewis said the world has moved beyond traditional learning time and teachers need to find ways to engage their students.

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“They must have something to look forward to,” she said. “I push clubs and organizations on campus because not everyone is going to be an athlete. Not everyone’s niche is basketball, football or volleyball. Some kids are in the sciences, or, we have a Dungeons and Dragons (club), anime — anything that they want to be here because it’s their home away from home.”

Being involved in the lifecycle in this way will hopefully empower and inspire students, Reyes said.

“If they see there is hope, no matter how bad your situation is, hope is something you cling to,” she said. “This place is always devastated by storms, by many things. But if you see hope, it’s a spark, isn’t it?”

Learning must be relevant to real life, Reyes said.

“They will see that what (they) learn in the classroom comes to life by applying it in the research that we are going to do,” she said. “It’s reading, writing, math, science – putting it all together. And if we can encourage children to write, to draw a butterfly, to see the beauty in exterior, it is a transcended education.”

Reyes hopes this will inspire students to love the outdoors.

“I grew up in Asia, chasing butterflies, trapping dragonflies and I don’t see that (now),” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see kids stuck playing video games, staring at their screens. There’s something more beautiful than the screen, something alive out there. We want them to see that. .”

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Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson