Mireille Hess a third-grade teacher at Edgewood Elementary School in Greenfield, Wisconsin, who received the 2019 Monarch Butterfly Scholarship Grant, which gave her a firsthand experience with the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico.

Monarch Butterfly Scholarship Grant winners 2019

My biggest takeaway from this incredible experience is that we’re in this together. Mexico can’t save the monarchs’ migration alone, nor can Canada or America. We have to come together and work together to save this incredible butterfly migration.

This experience renewed my sense of urgency to educate people about the monarchs’ plight and about the importance of planting milkweed and native flowering plants. The biggest threat to these butterflies now is the loss of edible milkweed and nectar sources in the United States. It’s going to take all of us, especially those of us who live in the Midwest, working together to plant milkweed and native flowers to save this migration.

Where I live in Wisconsin, the monarchs arrive at the end of May, stay all summer, and begin their migration in early September, if not sooner. I spend my summers educating groups of people (and whoever will listen) about the monarch butterfly. I kick off my school year with an in-depth study of the monarch. Most years, students are able to raise a small caterpillar into an adult butterfly, then and tag and release the butterfly. During this unit, students discover the issues the monarchs face. Children love to help, so we put together a plan for something they can all do, like planting milkweed, sign petitions to stop the use of pesticides, etc. These lessons are part of a greater migration unit, where students study a grand migration that an animal takes and then make an action plan to help it flourish.

Teacher photographing a butterfly

Our children will be facing many issues relating to climate change and species survival. To get people to care about something enough to make changes in their own life, they have to see it and experience it. I hope that raising and releasing a monarch butterfly is an experience that my students will never forget. After traveling to Mexico to see the monarch butterfly migration, I learned that it’s just as important to learn about the other people who want to save the monarch as it is to learn about the monarchs themselves.

Our  Expedition Leaders did an incredible job of infusing Mexican culture into our trip. We participated in an Epiphany celebration where we ate King’s Cake. It is a tradition that whoever finds the baby in the cake has to make the group tamales at the end of Epiphany. While I couldn’t get the group together again, I did share this story with my class. In early February, I learned how to make tamales. While I’ve always appreciated good guacamole and I knew of Dia De Los Muertos, having two amazing Mexican guides expose us to their home country and culture really made me want to learn more about it. In an effort to do this, I’ve committed to learning Spanish.

Mexican woman teaching about monarch butterflies

Part of this collective effort to save our beloved butterflies, as well as the planet, is to understand each other. When the monarchs’ overwintering grounds first made international news, there was a big effort to stop the logging, and government officials told people they no longer could log the forests. While this was great for the monarchs, this was challenging for some of the people who lived there, as this was their livelihood. When WWF helped bring everyone to the table and people began to communicate with and better understand each other, they found lasting solutions… ones that everyone could live with.

Conservation is more than just loving an animal. It’s taking action in a meaningful and respectful way.

Teacher taking notes

This guest post was written by third-grade teacher Mireille Hess. All photos by Nick Grossman.