Allie Lippe-Mackey: Lawrence High students growing milkweed to help monarchs (Column)

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Lawrence High School’s freshman biology teachers, Julie Battaglia, Christina Podany and I, hosted a special event on Tuesday to welcome staff from Monarch Watch to educate students about monarchs and milkweeds. Throughout the school day, students had the opportunity to engage with three stations, each offering a unique learning experience.

The first station featured presentations by Monarch Watch staff, Dena Podrebarac, who provided valuable insights into the world of monarch butterflies and the critical role of milkweed in their lifecycle. Students will have the chance to deepen their understanding of biodiversity, conservation ecology, and the impact of human activities on ecosystems.

At the second station, students examined specimens brought by the Monarch Watch staff, Ann Ryan and Joey Shondell. This hands-on experience allowed them to observe monarch butterflies up close and explore their special characteristics and adaptations, and the unique stages of each part of the monarch’s life cycle. 

At the third station, students used their Seek iNaturalist app on their phones to identify species of plants and animals in the surrounding environment. This activity encourages students to engage with their natural surroundings and develop a deeper appreciation for the local ecosystem. This also demonstrates how technology can be used for citizen science, helping scientists collect data from the citizens and their surroundings. 

The event had additional significance due to recent news of herbicide use on the prairie behind the nature center. In response, Lawrence High’s freshman biology teacher team has been cultivating milkweed plants with seeds provided by Joey Shondell, who works for Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries, aiming to establish monarch rest stops along the butterfly’s migration path.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the team has grown milkweed to plant in the school’s native plants garden, and sent students home with milkweed to plant, hoping to provide a sanctuary for monarch butterflies since such a large sanctuary for them has sadly been killed off. 

The collaborative efforts between the biology teachers, Monarch Watch, and the Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries, exemplify a commitment to environmental stewardship and the preservation of biodiversity. By engaging students in hands-on activities and fostering a sense of responsibility towards their community and the natural world, Lawrence High School is empowering the next generation of environmental advocates.

This event serves as a reminder of the profound impact that education and collective action can have on protecting and conserving our fragile ecosystems. Through these experiences, students at Lawrence High are learning valuable lessons and discovering their potential to make a positive difference in the world around them.

— Allie Lippe-Mackey (she/her), M.Ed. Curriculum & Instruction, teaches biology, astronomy and geology at Lawrence High School.

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