Monarch Waystations and Environmental Education in Binghampton
This project seeks to advance a new collaboration between McMerton Community Gardens, De La Salle Elementary School, and Brewster Elementary School in the Binghampton neighborhood.Through this project, leaders from these three institutions will work together to improve the neighborhood’s environment and provide new learning and enrichment opportunities for the neighborhood’s youth:
McMerton Community Gardens – In 2007, McMerton was established as a community vegetable and herb garden on a vacant lot at the corner of McAdoo and Merton streets, at the heart of the Binghampton neighborhood. In the subsequent 8 years, McMerton has grown into a network of gardens on vacant lots throughout the neighborhood with more than 2 acres under cultivation. During the growing season, McMerton is able to sell produce at several local farmers markets, generating revenues to pay neighborhood youth for their work in the gardens. Many of the youth who work with McMerton attend De La Salle or Brewster elementary schools.
De La Salle Elementary School – De La Salle is a small, Catholic elementary school in the Lasallian tradition established in 2000 as part of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis’ city-wide efforts to reopen inner-city schools to serve the poor. Currently, De La Salle serves a diverse student body, largely from the Binghampton neighborhood, and largely comprised of youth coming from immigrant and refugee families. Several De La Salle students are regular workers with the McMerton gardens.
Brewster Elementary School – Brewster is a public elementary school “committed to transforming the lives of its students through rigorous coursework that is geared toward complete academic growth and development.” With a new, state-of-the-art campus, Brewster attracts students from throughout Binghampton and several surrounding neighborhoods. As with De La Salle, Brewster has several students who are regular workers with the McMerton gardens.
Together, we are planning to install new gardens at the two schools and throughout the neighborhood that will serve as dedicated waystations for monarch butterflies on their biannual migration between Mexico and the Northern United States and Canada. These gardens will be located at existing McMerton garden sites, on the campuses of the two schools, on the grounds of two neighborhood community centers, and along both sides of Merton Street, which is the main street for the neighborhood. All of these locations are within a quarter-mile of each other and within easy walking distance of the two schools. The gardens will be planted with a mixture of native larval host plants and native nectar producing plants to create the optimal habitat for monarch caterpillars and butterflies. These gardens will have the added benefits of beautifying the neighborhood and providing sustainable habitat for other essential pollinators and wildlife.
We are also planning to work together with a monarch expert and environmental educator from nearby Lichterman Nature Center to develop a monarch-specific curriculum based on Lichterman’s “Tracking Monarchs: The Great Migration” education program that will fit within the two schools’ existing curriculum standards. She will help the McMerton garden leaders and the teachers from De La Salle and Brewster make the most of the rich experiential learning opportunities afforded by having Monarch waystations on the school campuses and throughout the neighborhood.
Beginning in January of 2016, the McMerton gardeners will work to prepare the new garden beds and start plants in the McMerton greenhouse. The gardens will be located at existing McMerton garden sites, on the campuses of the two participating schools, at two neighborhood community centers, and curbside along both sides of Merton Street. In consultation with botanists from Lichterman Nature Center, the McMerton gardeners will be very intentional about selecting plant varieties that are native to the Memphis region and are appropriate for Monarch habitat – including multiple varieties of milkweed, the monarchs’ essential larval host plant.
In March and April of 2016, the McMerton gardeners will begin planting the new monarch waystations and installing the appropriate signage. We will acquire butterfly enclosures for classrooms in each of the schools and help teachers order monarch caterpillar kits to populate the enclosures. Monarch butterflies will begin migrating through the Memphis area in late April and May 2016. During this time, students will have the opportunity to study which plant species and varieties are most attractive to the Monarchs and other pollinators.
During the summer of 2016, the McMerton gardeners will continue to maintain the waystation gardens.
In late September and October of 2016, Monarch butterflies will begin migrating back through the Memphis area on their way to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. By this time, the waystation gardens will be well-established and contain nectar producing plants to attract and sustain the Monarchs traveling through the area. Students will have the opportunity to participate in several activities in the fall, including capturing and tagging monarch butterflies as they pass through Memphis.
why we’re doing it
The migration of monarch butterflies is one of the wonders of the natural world and one of its greatest mysteries. It is also under threat from severe loss of habitat due to logging, harmful agricultural practices and sprawling urban development throughout the monarchs’ range. Conservationists are increasingly concerned about the species, so much so that several leading conservation organizations recently filed a petition for protection for Monarchs under the Endangered Species Act. Other conservation organizations are proactively encouraging the restoration of essential monarch habitat by providing resources to support the creation of monarch waystation gardens. The McMerton leaders are eager to join in these efforts by working to restore monarch habitat in the Binghampton neighborhood and by helping to encourage a deeper sense of stewardship and care for the environment among the neighborhood’s youth.
Additionally, this project will provide our neighborhood’s teachers with a highly-visible case study they can use to facilitate interactive and experiential engagement with core concepts in environmental science. For example, potential learning activities might include 1) observing the life cycle of the monarchs in special butterfly enclosures in the classrooms, 2) touring the monarch waystations to learn about the monarch’s specific habitat requirements, 3) observing the extent to which certain plants attract monarchs or other pollinators at different times of the year, or 4) working to capture and tag monarchs as they travel through the waystation gardens each fall.