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posted: Wed, Oct 15th, 2014

The project’s not just about studying a life cycle. It’s about importance of conservation, it’s about ecology and the importance of protecting natural habitats, it’s about geography and climate, and the traditions of another culture.

Dona Scheidecker’s fourth-graders recently raised and released 32 monarch butterflies. Over the course of about a month, the students learned about the butterfly life cycle (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly) and witnessed the transformation firsthand in the classroom. 

But the lessons learned go much further. The students learned just how fragile a species the monarch really is. Monarchs have been decreasing in numbers over the years due to weather changes, loss of habitat from deforestation, and the use of pesticides. These causes have lead to a drastic reduction in the milkweed plant – the only food source for these majestic creatures and the only place where the monarchs lay their eggs. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the monarch population has decreased by 90% in the last 20 years and may have lost 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas.

Ms. Scheidecker has been raising monarchs with her classes for 11 years.

“It’s my passion,” said the veteran educator, who harvested monarch eggs and caterpillars over the summer from Turkey Brook Park in preparation for the project. “The students learn so much and it’s something they never forget. I’ll see kids from the high school or who have graduated and the first thing they ask me is if I’m still doing it. It stays with them.”

Ms. Scheidecker’s students also learned about the long journey of the monarchs and the butterfly’s place in Mexican culture. The butterflies raised by the class, as well as all the millions of others born in late summer east of the Rockies, make the long trip southward to the highlands of central Mexico for the winter.

The arrival of the monarchs coincides with the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead. According to traditional belief, the monarchs are the souls of ancestors who are returning to Earth for their annual visit.

The monarchs raised by the class were released as they matured. On the day when the final pair were set free to embark on their long trek, the class held a monarch emergence ceremony. Using props and posters, the students explained everything that they had learned to the gathered guests, presenting information about the monarch’s life cycle, habitat, migration, and conservation.

 (In August, several organizations petitioned the Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to request that the monarch butterfly be granted threatened status under the Endangered Species Act.)

Third-grader Holly Smitreski concentrates on making a card magically flip over inside the deck for magician and motivational speaker Jeff Blum

Mixing magic with a message

It was a magical kickoff to CMS’s activities recognizing New Jersey’s Week of Respect – an annual week of awareness and education centered around the prevention of harassment, intimidation, and bullying. 

Dr. Jeff Blum, a motivational speaker and magician, conducted two presentations that combined messages of respect, cooperation, and courtesy with fun magic tricks. His “Be A Peacemaker Anti-bullying Assembly Program” provided a unique blend of inspiration and high-energy entertainment that completely engaged students.

Carefully tailored messages such as “Treat everyone like they have magic inside” and “If you want respect, you need to give it first” were connected and woven into the tricks he performed. Audience participation further added to the fun.

“Dr. Blum provided the perfect start to a week filled with discussions about very serious topics,” said Kevin Moore, CMS principal. “And he did it in a fun way that got students to think about the importance of getting along with others and what it really means to have good character.”

This was a return engagement for Dr. Blum. He presented his magical anti-bullying program here at CMS last year.

New Jersey’s anti-bullying law mandates that schools observe the Week of Respect every year by providing students with age-appropriate instruction focusing on preventing harassment, intimation, and bullying. The Week of Respect precedes the state’s School Violence Awareness Week, which is held annually during the third week of October.

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Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
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