During the last week of school, I met with some future leaders of our community, and quite possibly, the world! You will get to know them a little in this interview. They are sixth grade students in Mr. Jarvis’ science class at North Muskegon Schools who worked to create monarch butterfly “waystations” at the school, on North Muskegon city property, and at some nearby homes.
Monarch waystations are places that, quite simply, are planted with milkweed and other Michigan native plants. The milkweed plant is essential to monarch butterflies. Monarchs need them for their spring and summer breeding in North America – it’s the only place where their life cycle stages occur -- the egg, the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and finally, the adult butterfly. Without milkweed plants, these iconic butterflies are not able to produce the successive generations that migrate back to Mexico for the winter and then make the trek back again the next spring and summer. And then the cycle starts all over again.
It’s a need around the world, not just here in Muskegon County, as scientific studies show a sharp decline in the monarch butterfly population. The decline is due to loss of forest habitat in Mexico, disappearance of milkweed plants in the main flyway of the monarch, harm from pesticides and other toxic chemicals, and the effects of the climate crisis. Most significantly? No milkweed, no monarchs.
Why save monarch butterflies? They pollinate many types of wildflowers and they are an important food source for birds, small animals, and other insects. And, of course, they are beautiful.
The students first did a “walkabout” to learn about local environmental issues. They also heard from experts and then decided to help the monarch butterflies. The students, more than featured in this interview, took up the challenge and were genuinely enthusiastic about making a real and positive difference in their own community. Not just “book-learning,” but real-life learning! They researched Michigan native plants, learned how to plan, build and install a butterfly garden, established criteria for landowner participation, planted a wide variety of native Michigan plants, and communicated with the landowners and members of the public about how and where to install the waystations.
The Monarch Waystation Project is just one of many similar projects at North Muskegon Schools and other area schools. Partners on this project included the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, Muskegon Conservation District, Girl Scouts, the City of North Muskegon, and Arconic.
Mr. Jarvis has had a longstanding and significant focus on encouraging his students to be environmentally aware and to act on their education. The best environmental education projects usually combine research and learning with getting outdoors in nature, like this one. And too, studies show that young people who experience nature – get outdoors -- are more inclined to protect it. When you watch this interview, you will see that the students are passionate about the topic and they truly care. It is inspiring to me, and I hope to all viewers, as well! Thanks, Mr. Jarvis and North Muskegon students! Click here to visit the student website and see their work