CHILI — If you have any questions about butterflies, you might want to call the fourth-graders at St. Pius Tenth School, who spent the 2003-04 school year tracking butterfly migration patterns through the Journey North program.
Journey North is a free Internet educational service provided by the Annenberg Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The program helps students and teachers track the migratory patterns of a dozen species, including the monarch butterflies tracked by students at St. Pius this year.
Through Journey North, students are linked online with thousands of other students in the United States and Canada, as well as scientists who share their expertise. The students also learn about, and correspond with, children in Mexico, where the butterflies migrate each fall before coming north in the spring.
Monica Smith, a former fourth-grade teacher at St. Pius, said she learned about Journey North by watching a public-television show, and introduced the program to St. Pius three years ago. Smith worked with the school’s fourth-graders this year on the Journey North program.
One feature of the program, she said, was the use of “symbolic butterflies” that the children made of paper, decorated, then mailed to students in Mexico. Students south of the border live in a region that serves as a sanctuary for monarch butterflies, she said. The Mexican students maintained butterfly “sanctuaries,” or collections, of the symbolic butterflies sent to them by students all around North America, she added.
Some of the students’ butterflies were stored in a Mexican museum devoted to promoting the protection of the monarch butterflies, she said. Smith noted that scientists are concerned about the future of the butterflies because their habitat in Mexico is threatened by logging, and their larvae’s food supply — milkweeds — is declining due to increased pesticide use in the United States and Canada. Encouraging children to work to preserve potentially endangered species such as the monarch is part of the reason Journey North began, according to its Web site at www.learner.org/jnorth/.
Carrie Kirk, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Pius, said her class enjoyed the Journey North program. In addition to learning about butterfly migration, the students also learned about the region where the Mexican students live, she said.
“A lot of the areas from Mexico around the (butterfly) sanctuary are very, very poor regions,” Kirk said. Smith added that the St. Pius students also learned about the Mexican students’ family customs and daily lives.
This spring, the St. Pius students received butterflies from different classes that had participated in the Journey North program around the United States and Canada. The symbolic butterflies they received had been stored in Mexico, Smith said.
Megan Smith, Monica Smith’s daughter, said she received a butterfly from a student in Vineland, N.J. She noted that she planned on writing him.
“I’ll tell him what I do at school, and what I like to do, and, hopefully, he’ll write back to me,” she said.
Megan’s mother noted that a girl in Pennsylvania began a correspondence with her daughter after receiving Megan’s butterfly this spring. Smith added that, for safety reasons, students in the Journey North program only use their first names and school addresses in correspondence.
Fourth-grader Alex Hewa received a butterfly from a student in Canada, he said, and added that “it was fun making the butterflies.” Alex was one of several students from around North America whose paper butterfly was pictured on the Journey North Web site.
Smith said the Journey North program was a valuable educational experience.
“It was a real great hands-on thing that incorporated science, math, social studies language arts — the gamut, really,” she said.