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Butterfly Garden Brings Beauty and Outdoor Lab to School

By Rebecca Wicks
Ventura County Star

Recently changing the focus of their magnet school to science and global citizenship, Mound Elementary School in Ventura was looking for ways to weave science not just into the curriculum but the school itself. They ended up with a certified Monarch Waystation.

“We thought it would be great to have an outdoor laboratory and developed the idea of creating a butterfly garden so students could have a hands-on outdoor learning center,” said Third-Grade Teacher Carrie Gusik who along with other teachers, staff, parents, grandparents, students and local Girl Scouts created school’s butterfly garden.

“Now, the students study pollination, life cycles and are being good stewards of the environment,” said Gusik whose students have been able to observe two generations of monarchs since the garden was established.

Nestled in an empty corner of the school previously sparsely covered with weeds and grass, the new garden features a meandering path around more than a dozen types of butterfly-attracting plants and is complete with a solar-powered fountain, drip system, a mural painted by Girl Scouts and even decorative rocks and garden gnomes.

The garden was designed by parent Scott Bucy with the all the hard labor – removal of sod, trench digging, the laying of decomposed granite and the installation of a drip system – completed by an all-volunteer group working on the weekends.

“I have so been impressed by the teachers and parents who came together to plan, design, and convert this once grassy area into something truly beautiful and educational for our students,” said Mound School Principal Todd Tyner. “The butterfly garden is the best example of what happens when parents, students and staff work together to improve the learning environment at a school.”

Funding to create the garden came from more than $1500 from groups including the Ventura Educational Partnership, Scripps Howard Foundation and the school’s PTO. The garden also received some native plants through the Captain Planet Grant.

North America has seen a dramatic decline in monarch butterflies. Southern California, usually a haven for these creatures, has also had lower numbers in recent years. Population decreases are attributed to a shortage of their only food source – milkweed – as well as pesticide applications and dramatic weather changes. Monarch Waystations provide pesticide-free milkweed plants, nectar plants and shelter for monarchs throughout their cycle of reproduction and migration.

A two-wall mural celebrating the monarch butterfly, its life cycle and its natural environment stands adjacent to the garden. Designed by artists Miyo Breton and Amber Verdries, the mural features butterflies, flowers, birds and insects painted by more than 50 Girl Scouts, most students or alumni from the school.

“Our troop loves collaborative art and we jumped at the chance to participate,” said Andi Kish, leader of Girl Scout Troop 60385. “This mural will be part of their school for years to come made the girls feel like they were part of a legacy that they would leave behind for future third graders.”