We have a big wish: to help the monarch butterfly population here in California. We understand from the Center for Biological Diversity that they are in trouble. The population is down 90% from their high in 1996-97. While the reasons for this are varied, loss of habitat is the biggest, both due from the development of land as well as the still too-common use of herbicides that also kill milkweeds.
In our Milkweeds for Monarchs project, we do have two advantages specific to the location of our school. Since our town is on the Pacific flyway for migratory species, we are in the right place for the monarchs that travel within the U.S. Large numbers of them winter over in Santa Cruz, here in California.
Our second advantage is that the school has acreage that is undevelopable for campus use because it is a steep hillside. We intend to develop this as a habitat for migratory species of all sorts. We will grow native plants for food attractive to those species. We will also provide plants that attract insects that will be food for those species. The milkweeds for monarchs will fit right in there! While we already have some native milkweed on campus--less than a dozen plants--we do plan on increasing that number both in our landscaped areas and the habitat acreage.
Since our school has an existing service learning component, upgraded from community service in the past, the project will offer students a chance to work and learn at home as well as school. This is of particular benefit to students who have sports or other commitments after school which is usually when most students do service learning projects.
Here's a rough outline of the three components necessary to accomplish this:
First, we will engage students in learning about both pieces of the equation: the monarchs and the plants necessary for their food or hosting their eggs. It involves identifying local species of milkweed, growing them for their seeds, and propagating them to increase the number of plants available for the monarchs' eggs. There will be resources of all sorts online as well as informational activities with staff or volunteers from the wider community.
Second, we will reach out to our communities. We have two of them. Our school community draws widely from more than a dozen suburbs. In addition, the town in which our school is located is also has its own connection to us; we have a role in the life of Walnut Creek. In addition to raising native milkweed plants, we will provide young milkweeds for any families that are willing to plant and tend them in their gardens as part of our outreach. We will publicize this both on campus, on our school website, and, we hope, in our local newspaper. This is to widen people's understanding about the monarchs' difficulties and how to help. In this outreach, we will also connect with community programs such as our local Master Gardeners, people at UC Davis, our local wildlife center, and community naturalists for advice and learning.
Third, as with our school-wide service learning goals, the students who participate in this project will give back to our school. They will choose a way to teach a specified audience within our PS-8th grade school community about their experience. Their projects may take any form they wish that suits their audience and their talents or interests. This teaching component may range from an interactive classroom visit to a video, from a bulletin board display to being a docent for the wildlife habitat we are creating.
There is one more element woven into the above three parts. That is empathy. First we will discuss the needs of the two species, the insects and plants at the heart of our project. Next we will look at the world of our campus and surroundings and try to identify locations that are hospitable to the needs of the both. I think this, of all components, it the one thing--the one reality-- that will make our school citizens into agents for change. It will create a home for the meaning of such projects within our students.