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A thank you card made for American Fork Mayor Brad Frost by the third graders of Cedar Ridge Elementary School.
Courtesy of Brad Frost
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A marked monarch butterfly.
Courtesy of Anette Stephens
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Third-grade students from Cedar Ridge Elementary School wait to make a presentation at an American Fork City Council meeting.
Courtesy of Anette Stephens
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This American Fork wetland is home to a wide range of pollinators.
Courtesy of Rachel Taylor
A group of third-grade students from Cedar Ridge Elementary School have gained hands-on experience in environmental advocacy and the inner workings of local government, all thanks to the monarch butterfly.
Three years ago, third-grade teacher Anette Stephens at Cedar Ridge made it her mission to give her students more experiences in the world.
After raising monarch butterflies in the classroom with her students this year, Stephens learned that they are critically endangered across the West. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the population of eastern monarch butterflies fell 88%, from around 383 million to just under 45 million, from 1996 to 2020.
“Butterfly experts Rachel Taylor and Mindy Wheeler invited me to tag monarch butterflies found in a pristine wetland in American Fork,” Stephens said. “We found 13. They explained that they had been trying for years to get the city to take care of the wetlands and asked if me and some teacher friends would join them.”
Stephens made a video of the wetland to show it to his students, who immediately wanted to protect it. During the school year, the class made posters promoting the conservation of the wetland and wrote a letter to Brad Frost, the mayor of American Fork, asking him to protect the area.
“They just thought about all the ways we could preserve this habitat,” Stephens said. “They were so excited and they wanted to go there and they wanted to make it a beautiful place for monarchs.”
After much preparation, the students presented information about the monarchs to Frost, along with the rest of the American Fork City Council, at their April 12 meeting. The students asked Frost to help preserve the wetland for educational purposes and to protect it from development and destruction.
Frost was not only impressed with the students’ willingness to speak at the city council meeting, but also with the educational nature of their presentations.
“It was special to see the young kids get involved in a political process,” Frost said. “Each individual came and they taught us something new about monarch butterflies, the habitat, and the threat to the monarch butterfly.”
Frost is currently working with members of the American Fork Parks and Trails Committee to create a conservation plan for the wetland. He specifically requested that all conservation efforts favor the monarch butterfly.
The students struggled to contain their joy when they discovered Frost’s plan.
“They were so excited and they were trying to be so polite and respectful during the meeting, you know, but when we got to a private corner, we were just shouting and clapping,” she said. “The next day they came into the school shouting ‘victory!’ ‘Victory!'”
Although the timetable is still being worked out, Frost told pupils at the town council meeting that they will see significant improvements by the time they leave primary school.
Although Stephens cannot take his students directly to the wetlands for an excursion, they continue to work on other projects to help the local monarch population and educate others. Because butterfly caterpillars can only eat milkweed, the students are currently working to distribute milkweed seeds to their parents and other members of the community.
Stephens was proud that each of her students contributed to this project in their own way.
“At the end they all felt like they had done hard things and done them well, they were proud of themselves,” Stephens said. “It was a really great feeling.”