Webster Hill Releases Monarch Butterflies for Journey to Mexico

The annual butterfly release has become one of the signature events at this West Hartford Elementary School.

There is a tradition at Webster Hill Elementary School that takes place every year around the third week of September.

It's a celebration of science and nature, and involves the entire school community, as well as neighbors and a devoted group of former parents who never miss the heart-warming experience of a butterfly release ceremony.

This year about 160 guests attended the ceremony, said Webster Hill Principal Jeff Wallowitz.

"As teachers, we're a part of something special because we watch the evolution of students from Pre-K through fifth grade. As parents, you watch your children grow. But all of us at this school are a part of the life cycle of these butterflies, their evolution. When they go to Mexico, they take a little piece of us with them," Wallowitz said at the butterfly release.

Ever since a grant and some very hard-working parent volunteers turned unused space into the Living Courtyard in 1997, Webster Hill has become known as the "Butterfly School."

Many Webster Hill families are involved raising butterflies all summer long, since some undergo their metamorphosis before the kids return to school in the fall. Families volunteer in advance to take the caterpillars home, feed them milkweed, and return them to the courtyard's butterfly house when they become butterflies.

The gardens in front of the school have become a sea of milkweed, with a signing asking people to parden the appearance of the "Monarch Butterfly Feedling Stations."

When the students return to school in the fall, every classroom, from Pre-K through 5th grade, raises butterflies from an egg, to a caterpillar, to a chrysalis, to the final metamorphosis to a butterfly.

The students learn about the butterflies' life cycle by experiencing this process, not just reading about it.

This year, 85 butterflies – 44 male and 41 female – were released on Thursday for their flight to Mexico, where they will remain throughout the winter. Fifth graders painstakingly tagged them on Wednesday, so that they can be tracked as they make the cross-continental journey.

There were very few dry eyes as under the direction of Music Teachre Colleen Slaiby, the entire school community sang along to the words of "I Believe I Can Fly" and the butterfly house net rolled back "magically," setting the butterflies free.

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