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October 8, 2013 > Loving Lepidoptera at Longwood

Loving Lepidoptera at Longwood

Submitted By Bruce Roberts

Back in the nineteen fifties, my older sister had a biology assignment: collect butterflies. Not only did she collect them, she gassed them with formaldehyde and impaled them perfectly on pins, a beautiful cemetery in a box for these winged wondersÑjust to please her teacher and earn a grade. And how did she catch them? SheÕd hand me the butterfly net and off IÕd goÑup the hill, up the tree, through the poison oak, into the creekÑbefore returning with my lovely, hapless victim ensnared in the cheesecloth.

I thought of this recently as I toured the Longwood Elementary School Butterfly Garden. Instead of killing butterflies, fifth and sixth grade students of teachers Melissa Sigars and Dena Connolly measured and planted and wrote and learned to create a garden, a habitat not to kill butterflies, but to attract them, giving them a place to survive. My, how science teaching has changed!

This garden is the brainchild of these two fine teachers, both graduates of HaywardÕs Mt. Eden High, a fact which qualified them for the Kathleen Crummey Grant from the Hayward Education Foundation (HEF). With this base funding, they received plants from the DevilÕs Mountain Nursery in San Ramon, design and installation help from Sam Sigars of Green Island Nursery, and concrete work from Billy Martin, H.U.S.D. (Hayward Unified School District) head of operations. All this support, of course, laid the basis for the real work--planting the flowers, the tactile work where the students get their hands dirty, with excellent results.

Before 2012, the empty area between two wings of Longwood was a vacant lot; dirt, weeds, and neglect were its main qualities. Now, however, a neat concrete walkway divides six raised planter boxes, each 5 ft. by 5 ft., and overflowing with flowers, carefully chosen to attract butterflies. Lantana, salvia, sunflowers, columbine, buddleia, coneflowers, milkweed, etc. Ñall mix in to create a mosaic of vibrant color.

Along the edge runs a concrete border of handprints from the creating studentsÑwith each oneÕs initials on the palm, a lasting tribute to their hard work, and centered around another tribute: ÒIn Loving Memory of Kathy Crummey,Ó the H.E.A. (Hayward Education Association) president who funded this grant through H.E.F.

Beside the gorgeous garden, one bordering classroom wall is enhanced by a top-to-bottom garden mural running the full length. There, a thriving garden scene complements the real garden before it. And, it is a work in progress, for the students are creating their own butterflies, to add to the mural. The last fifteen minutes of class, every Friday, they also have practical dutiesÑpulling weeds, sniffing flowers, searching for caterpillars and butterflies, just enjoying the ambience of their garden.

Combining a variety of classroom instruction, with the tangible effort of putting in a garden is a masterpiece of teaching, one that students will remember all their lives. As Kennia, a student in Mrs. ConnellyÕs class, so nicely put it, ÒEvery time I go to the butterfly garden I feel calm and fresh. I hear the wind wooshing the leaves from the plants. I love the Butterfly Garden!Ó And Tiffany, a classmate, closed her paragraph with ÒThank-you, Hayward [Education] Foundation for the wonderful garden.Ó

Kathleen Crummey would be proud to see how well Ms. Sigars and Mrs. Connolly have used her grant.

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