Millersburg fourth-graders dreaming big as they try to create an Ohio law

Millersburg fourth-graders dreaming big as they try to create an Ohio law
Dave Mast

Will the monarch butterfly become the official state butterfly of Ohio? If it's up to the Millersburg Elementary fourth-graders, it will.


When special education teachers Lynda Park and Janet Yoder made a butterfly habitat on the west side of Millersburg Elementary, little did they know their project would pave the way for the school to attempt to create a new Ohio law.

Recently Millersburg Elementary went into a school-wide effort to explore exactly how a bill is turned into a law in Ohio, and their goal is to have the state vote on making the monarch butterfly the official butterfly of Ohio.

The Garden of Hope Butterfly Habitat was designed as a school-wide outside classroom, and many of the teachers have raised and released monarch butterflies and utilized the garden.

The two teachers applied for a wildlife educational grant through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and were able to build the garden to aid the teachers who raise butterflies and talk to their students about life cycles.

Park said the grant allowed them to plant milkweed, the monarch’s sole source of food, along with some other varieties of plants. The special education class members and volunteers helped create the habitat, Danny Masters supplied topsoil, the Millersburg PTO helped plant the garden in April during a snow storm of all things and the habitat was put in place.

“We had great support from a lot of people to make this habitat a reality,” Park said. “We added some ornamental milkweed and some annuals and perennials to the garden to enhance the beauty of it, and we added some stones and painted a big butterfly on the retaining wall along with a saying.”

“I thought this was very unique for us,” Yoder said. “If this passes and is put into law, we won’t be called an Amish school any more. We will be the butterfly school.”

Park said with the other plants and flowers in place, their hope is other insects will make the garden their home. However, the garden was only getting started and was about to take flight.

Park and Yoder came up with the additional idea of having the fourth-grade class do a letter-writing campaign to the Ohio General Assembly to have the monarch butterfly become the official butterfly of Ohio by having it actually put into law.

“We kind of all went into this project blind, but it has been a fantastic adventure,” Yoder said. “I started by contacting Rep. [Darrell] Kick’s office, and it took off from there.”

The fourth-grade class could choose one of five butterflies in their initial vote, and then after narrowing the choice down to the top three, they opened up the vote to the entire school to let every student and teacher get involved.

Those three included the monarch, the painted butterfly and the eastern tiger swallowtail. The monarch won in a very close vote.

Nancy Miller has taught about government and the process of putting bills into law to her class for years. They talked about bicycle helmets and how the bill goes through the state Senate and House of Representatives and eventually lands on the desk of the government.

“I told the kids that just because we pick a state butterfly and submit it doesn’t mean it will be put into law,” Miller said. “It would be incredible if it were put into law because it would be something that they could take ownership of forever. That’s pretty special.”

Miller had her students do a large amount of research on the butterflies online using Chrimebooks. They researched habitats, lifestyles, characteristics and the stages from caterpillar to butterfly. The students then put pictures into slides and showed them to their classmates by giving a presentation.

“It has been a fun and exciting educational opportunity, and while it has been fun, the really neat thing is that this could become a real Ohio law. That is when it would get really exciting. I told the kids that they had to treat this in a very adult fashion and make their case because this could actually become a state law. So they had to really do their homework on why one specific butterfly would best represent the entire state of Ohio,” Miller said.

While the classes of Yoder and Park created, collected and counted the ballots, fourth-grade teacher Abby Grenert had the honor of having her students write the letters that will be sent to Rep. Kick.

“The kids are really excited about the opportunity, and you could see their faces light up when they found out that these letters would be going to an authentic person who makes laws,” Grenert said.

Grenert will have all her students pen short letters to Kick, but she will choose the top letter from each of the three fourth-grade classes to pass along. Miller also will write a cover letter defining what the students did in their pursuit of the state butterfly effort.

“I am expecting some of the best handwriting for this project,” Grenert said. “This will be a memory they will remember for a long time.”

In addition to the letter-writing campaign, fourth-grade teacher Jeremy Renner is using the opportunity to promote math skills. Renner is having his class create line plots to chart the election results.

“With everything tabulated, we will do all of the graphing of the results to see what that looks like,” Renner said. “It’s another educational aspect, and I don’t think that in a writing project the kids realized there were math opportunities too. Plus by taking the time to make the monarch butterfly the state butterfly, they are learning about their civic duty and being part of a community.”

Yoder said should the bill be put into law and the monarch be named the state butterfly, the school would invite Kick and Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs in for a special ceremony.

The entire educational process has included lessons in government, writing, public speaking and math, meaning this butterfly project definitely has wings, wings that could fly all the way to seeing Millersburg Elementary create a state law.

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