Mason boasts an outdoor classroom, including a specialized habitat to attract butterflies. The garden also has “attracted” certification as a Pollinator Habitat through Monarchs Across Georgia, an initiative of the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia.
As a certified Pollinator Habitat, Mason’s garden includes milkweed (a must for monarch butterflies) as well as host plants to attract other butterfly species. Nectar sources must be present during the spring, summer, and fall, along with a water source, a “basking” site where butterflies can warm themselves and catch some rays, and shelter for the butterflies against weather, predators, and human activity. Conservation practices such as composting, avoiding chemicals, using soaker or drip hoses, and xeriscaping also must be present in a certified habitat.
The initiative started several years ago with teambuilding exercise for Amy Mock’s 1st grade students that year. Ms. Mock encouraged her students— Mock’s Monarchs— to learn and grow together during the year, just as monarch butterflies grow, change, and journey thousands of miles as part of their life cycle.
That monarch focus prompted a child to bring in an article about how chemicals and other habitat disruptors were reducing the monarch butterfly population. Ms. Mock designed a problem-based learning unit around the preservation of the monarch for her students. One thing led to another as the children researched native plants, learned about seasonal changes and life cycles, and wrote persuasive letters asking the PTA for supplies. A $7,500 grant from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement moved along the project as first one class, then another worked on the activity.
Ms. Mock says the project helped her see that even young children can have an impact in their community. “The biggest takeaway for me would be that young students can work together to protect natural resources,” she says. “They understand that they have a voice that can be used to educate and persuade others about the plight of the Monarch butterfly.”
The effort to earn certification took two years. The garden was awarded status as a Certified Pollinator Habitat in 2015 and continues to maintain that status. The habitat itself is largely self-sustaining. Students participate in maintenance during the fall, including a clean-up of the outdoor classroom. In late fall and early winter, the garden will yield leafy greens— such as kale, spinach and varieties of lettuce. Some of the bounty is put to good use by the school’s cafeteria manager while a portion is donated to a local food pantry.
During the school day, the whole school community enjoys learning in this special outdoor setting. After school, the Terra Club maintains the space and works to educate students and parents about pollinators, including monarchs, of course. Club members research and support the effort to preserve these beautiful pollinators, including a spring project to raise a “kaleidoscope” of butterflies from a bunch of not-so-pretty-to-look-at caterpillars.
Soon, the monarchs will start their winter migration to Mexico. Come spring, the habitat will be waiting, ready with milkweed and a safe place to land for the monarchs and other pollinators that call Mason ES home.