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American Fork students advocate for monarch butterflies

By Ashtyn Asay - | May 14, 2022
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A thank you card made for American Fork Mayor Brad Frost by third grade students at Cedar Ridge Elementary.
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A tagged monarch butterfly.
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Third-grade students from Cedar Ridge Elementary School wait to present at an American Fork City Council meeting.
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This wetland area in American Fork is home to a diverse array of pollinators.

A group of third-grade students from Cedar Ridge Elementary School gained real-world experience in environmental advocacy and the inner workings of local government — all because of the monarch butterfly.

Three years ago, Anette Stephens, a third-grade teacher at Cedar Ridge, made it her mission to provide her students with more experiences in the world.

After raising monarch butterflies in the classroom with her students this year, Stephens learned that they are critically threatened throughout the west. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the eastern monarch population dropped 88%, from an estimated 383 million to just under 45 million, from 1996 to 2020.

“Butterfly experts Rachel Taylor and Mindy Wheeler invited me to tag monarchs found in a pristine wetland in American Fork,” Stephens said. “We found 13. They explained they had been trying for years to get the city to care for the wetlands and asked if I and any teacher friends would join them.”

Stephens made a video of the wetland area to show her students, who immediately wanted to protect it. Over the course of the school year, the class made posters advocating for 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 brainstormed all the ways we could preserve this habitat,” Stephens said. “They were just so excited and they wanted to go there and they wanted to make it a beautiful spot for the monarchs to live.”

After plenty of preparation, the students presented information on monarchs to Frost, as well as the rest of the American Fork City Council, at their April 12 meeting. The students asked Frost to help preserve the wetland area for educational purposes, and help protect it from development and destruction.

Frost was not only impressed by the students’ willingness to speak at the city council meeting, but by 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 up and they taught us something new about monarch butterflies, and the habitat, and the threat that is upon 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 area. He has specifically requested that any conservation efforts promote the monarch butterfly.

The students could hardly contain their joy when they found out about 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 were coming into the school going ‘victory!’ ‘Victory!'”

Although the timeline is still being worked out, Frost told the students at the city council meeting that they will see significant improvements by the time they leave elementary school.

Although Stephens cannot take her students directly to the wetlands for a field trip, they are continuing 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 of the fact that each of her students contributed to this project in their own unique way.

“At the end, they all felt like they had done hard things and done it well, they were proud of themselves,” Stephens said. “It was a really great, great feeling.”

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