WEST FORSYTH -- Third and fourth graders at Kelly Mill Elementary School spread their wings at a butterfly garden ribbon cutting ceremony Friday morning.
After months of planning and planting, the garden is finally finished, creating a monarch butterfly conservation area that has been in the works since last year.
Laura Fedorchuk, a gifted education teacher at the school who worked with the students to create the garden, led the event.
The project began in her classroom as a writing exercise for a Forsyth County annual writing contest.
Last year’s contest was titled “Got Milkweed,” a play on the well-known “Got Milk?” ad campaign.
The project also functioned to raise awareness of the monarch butterfly and concerns scientists have that the species will go extinct.
“We — myself included — didn’t know what milkweed even was, never mind how crucial it is to the monarch population [that] is now declining,” Fedorchuk said. “So we started with a writing contest and the kids did well in it and we thought, ‘well, you know what? The kids can make a difference.’”
Fedorchuk and her students, who were second and third graders at the time, began learning about the monarch and what they could do to help.
This led them to partner with employees from Lowe’s Home Improvement, who aided in the creation of the garden.
“I was so grateful,” Fedorchuk said. “They came out five times to help and planned with the students.
“They actually came out and sat in this area and kind of said, ‘what do you want?’ and [what] benches and what types of flowers, so they could order it, and nothing but amazing work from them.”
Now that the garden is complete, the monarchs have laid their eggs, which hatch on the milkweed and become caterpillars.
The caterpillars then form chrysalises — Fedorchuk said she and her students have counted nine so far, with even more caterpillars crawling all over the plants — and generally within two weeks, they hatch into the monarchs.
Unlike other butterflies, monarchs can live up to nine months, according to the North American Butterfly Association.
Usually born in September-October, monarchs then migrate down to Mexico, unable to tolerate most of the United States’ cold winters.
The World Wildlife Fund deemed the insect “near threatened” due to climate change, and in 2015, scientists found that since 1990 about 970 million monarchs have vanished.
The discovery led the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to team up with more than 50 organizations, including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Geological Survey to create the North American Monarch Conservation Plan.
The joint venture is aimed at working throughout the nation to conserve, enhance and restore monarch habitats, as well as research and monitor the species while educating the public.
With the planting of milkweed and the creation of the garden, Kelly Mill is already helping to save the butterflies, and now they can answer ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Got Milkweed?’