Tobie Blanchard, Fontenot, Kathryn
BATON ROUGE, La. – On Ella King’s hand sat a monarch butterfly that had recently emerged from its chrysalis. The first-grader stood perfectly still while other students looked on in awe.
The Westdale Heights Academic Magnet school students were outside enjoying the school’s “metamorphosis garden” where students like Ella learn about plants and insects, especially caterpillars and butterflies.
“The butterflies will come and help pollinate the flowers, so we’ll have this garden every spring and summer,” Ella said.
The garden is full of plants such as cassia, vitex, passion vine and milkweed that will attract butterflies.
“I’ve learned the inside of the milkweed looks like milk, but it’s actually the sap,” said kindergartner Edwin Loffler.
Becky Jones, an LSU graduate student studying with LSU AgCenter horticulturists, was at Westdale Heights in Baton Rouge working on a project about school butterfly gardens.
“We are letting teachers know how to go about preparing the soil and planting the plants,” Jones said. “We’re giving them the different varieties of plants that they can use to attract butterflies.”
LSU AgCenter horticulturists are working with schools across Louisiana to plant gardens that then can become a science lab or math project or even foster writing exercises.
“I think a big part of it is just the discovery. It’s one thing to tell students, but to actually show them and let them witness it in nature is so important,” Jones said.
Westdale Heights science teacher Mary Legoria is passionate about using gardens as educational tools. She started several gardens at other schools and has nurtured the garden at Westdale, using it as an outdoor classroom.
Legoria believes the garden has helped improve her students’ tests scores, creating unforgettable lessons and experiences.
“The garden helps because it’s real-life application,” she said. “To go out there and watch your own plants grow is more memorable than studying the life cycle from a book.”
Legoria’s enthusiasm for the garden is contagious. She said the students are always eager to spend time among the plants.
“They love to come out here whenever we say we’re going to work in the garden. They don’t care if it’s hauling rocks, if it’s digging or planting plants or observing the butterfly life cycle, they really get excited,” Legoria said.
“It’s so gorgeous outside every time we go, and that’s why I like the garden.” Ella said.
While Westdale Heights has a lush, impressive garden brimming with flowering trees and plants, herbs, fruits and vegetables, Legoria said any teacher can have a garden.
“I want teachers to know that they can start small and grow big – to take it one step at a time,” she said.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture