Butterfly garden offers lessons in outdoor survival

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP - From a distance, the group of students appeared to have lost something. Each student slowly circled the small patch of plants, squatting down, turning over leaves and searched intently.

"I found one!" came a voice from the crowd as excited classmates crowed around for a glimpse at the rear of the Rock Hill Middle School campus.

The subject of their intense search wasn't a lost prized possession, but rather a tiny fuzzy caterpillar.

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"We need to help it," seventh-grader Zach Markel told his teacher, Kathy Gore. It seems the tiny creature had completely eaten the leaf it was nearby.

"It's a natural setting," Gore said. "It will find its own way. They are used to helping them in the classroom."

But this isn't a traditional classroom; this is the wild.

Last week, dozens of Rock Hill Middle School students tramped through the damp morning grass to their new outside classroom.

On a small patch of ground, students, teachers and friends of the school have created a butterfly and bird garden.

"We were raising monarchs in the classroom last year," Gore said. "I said, what's the next hands on thing? There's got to be a way to show every child what a milkweed looks like in the wild. "I think it makes them so aware of the lessons they are learning."

And now milkweed and other plants, both nectar plants and host plants, are growing in the small garden and the butterflies will soon follow.

Grants from the National Gardening Association and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources helped create the garden, along with help from locals.

Teacher Ron Wade helped prepare the ground, Gore said. Rick Fraley, husband of a Rock Hill teacher, built a birdhouse for the garden. Guy's Floor Covering donated carpet squares so the students could sit on the ground without getting dirty. And Cook's Farm Center donated the mulch.

Last year's seventh graders at the school planted the garden.

"We are just amazed at the growth," Gore said. "We hope to look at the predator-prey relationship which is one of our state indicators."

Apparently, some students have absorbed the lessons. What's the most important lesson the students have learned so far?

"That the life cycle is important because if everything lived, we'd be overpopulated," Billy McGhee said.

Currently, only the seventh-grade science classes use the garden, but Gore said that might change soon.

"We're hoping to have it so everyone, including the preschool children, can come over here and learn," she said. "I hate to hear a kid say, 'I hate science.' My goal is to try to get every kid to do a science fair project this year."