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Playing with Monarchs

Spring Hill Elementary School hosts Monarch Teacher Network workshop.

For monarch butterflies, life span is luck of the draw. Those born in June live a mere two to three months, while Monarchs born in September and October can expect to live nine to 10 months.

“It would be like if a human being who was born in June would live to be 80 to 85 years old, but those who were born just a couple months later would live to be 1,000 years old,” said Erik Mollenhauer, a science and social studies supervisor with the Monarch Teacher Network.

That was just one piece of trivia that teachers learned over the course of a three-day Monarch Teacher Network workshop held last week at Spring Hill Elementary School in McLean. Instructors from schools across the region signed on to participate in the program, which is designed to show teachers how to use monarch butterflies as an educational tool in the classroom.

“Teachers across North America are bringing monarch butterflies into classrooms and using them to teach – not only science – but art, history and social studies, and also about some of the bigger issues we face today, like the need for habitat and the need to protect our environment,” said Mollenhauer. “And what’s so good about this project is that monarch butterflies are a native insect to Virginia. They are actually native to 49 of the 50 states – except Alaska. So it’s a native insect with a story.”

The story is that the fall generation of monarch butterflies that are born in September and October eventually take a 2,000-mile journey to New Mexico to escape the colder temperatures. Mollenhauer said it is this impressive migration that makes them such a useful educational tool.

THE MONARCH Teacher Network is based out of New Jersey and was started in August 2001 with the help of its host agency, the Educational Information & Resource Center.

“We did one workshop and trained 18 teachers,” said Mollenhauer.

The Monarch Teacher Network workshop hosted last week by Spring Hill Elementary School was the last of 10 workshops put on by the Monarch Teacher Network this summer.

“We did workshops in Virginia, Ohio, Connecticut, New Jersey, Ontario and Manitoba, and we trained over 400 teachers,” said Mollenhauer. “We’re growing every year and it’s an emerging national program that is hands-on and interdisciplinary.”

Spring Hill science teacher Alison Bauer had wanted the school to host a Monarch Teacher Workshop ever since she first heard about the program, and was thrilled that Spring Hill principal Roger Vanderhye was supportive of the idea. Bauer said she has been using monarch butterflies as a teaching tool for several years, but is excited to integrate the lessons from last week’s workshop into her classes in the coming school year.

“I have some caterpillars and chrysalis at my house right now, and I teach the third graders all about migration, so as soon as they emerge in September, we’re going to let them go,” said Bauer.

Spring Hill Elementary School second grade teacher Desiree Romeo said she found the workshop to be “fabulous” and “so much fun.”

“It’s just as much fun for us as it is for the kids,” she said.

On Thursday morning, Aug. 23, Vanderhye dropped in on the workshop and watched as the teachers tagged the butterflies and released them into the wild.

“This is just phenomenal – absolutely amazing,” said Vanderhye.

It was not only teachers who participated in last week’s workshop. Falls Church resident Marcia Geelhood heard about the program from a friend and decided to sign up.

“I had three days free, and it sounded really interesting, so I figured why not?” said Geelhood. “It’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed being able to handle the butterflies and see them in all their different stages.”