Oak Forest Elementary School benefits from an Entomology Specialist project

Gudrun Opperman felt empowered by her Entomology Specialist class experience.  After taking the 2009 class in Houston she realized that she could develop better signs for her school’s butterfly garden than were commercially available.  All it took was a little confidence.  Here’s the story, with pictures, of the new Monarch Garden signage that Gudren and her coworkers installed in 2011.

butterfly garden

The Oak Forest butterfly garden with signs installed in 2011

“About eight years ago, Debbie Krenek, the lead science teacher for Oak Forest Elementary School in Humble, TX, and Vivian Cardoso, a reading specialist and aide for “at risk” students, were instrumental in forming a group called the Growers of Oak Forest.  They wanted to find a way to give students “hands on” experiences in science and to give the “at risk” students an organization of which they could be part.  Their challenge was to find volunteers and outside funding since the school had no funds for the project.  They drew in Damien Carey, a local naturalist, to start a nature club, Jo Sanders, a Master Gardener, to start a vegetable garden, and me, to advise and help with replacing typical landscaping with native and butterfly friendly plants.  One of our first major projects was to tear out the landscaping in front of the school to replace it with plants for butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators.  Over time we have added more butterfly beds around the campus, including one which is part of Monarch Watch International.

“We always knew that we needed informational signs on these beds to help to educate the teachers, students, parents and community members about the plants in these beds and what was really happening there.  But the need became obvious a couple years ago when a grandmother, coming to pick up a student, saw the Asclepias was being eaten by caterpillars. She began squashing them only to be stopped by passing students. “You’re killing our butterflies!” They screamed and ran to the principal for help.

Custom butterfly sign

One of the signs depicting butterfly and moths likely to be found at Oak Forest

“After this incident we looked into buying pre-made signs but could not find anything affordable, or that said what we wanted.  Being in front of the school they had to be durable and permanent so they could not be easily defaced or stolen.  After taking the 2009 MVES entomology course, I determined that I could develop better signage than was available commercially.  The bigger challenge was to get the school district to allow the signs.

“Our first proposal to mount the signs to the building was denied, but we eventually came up with the free standing mounting system which was approved.  Several requests for funding through the District’s Education Foundation were unsuccessful, but eventually we were able to raise $1500 through the ExxonMobil VIP program.  I was able to call upon Dr. Bart Drees, Extension Entomologist from College Station, a number of friends, and even my son, who is a good photographer to gather up the necessary photos.  I developed the copy for the signs.  My son also has had extensive print design experience and laid out the final design.

“Other projects and facilities around the school that have been provided by the Growers group include a large organic vegetable garden which produced over 1400 pounds of vegetables this past school year, an orchard with about 25 trees and bushes, a chimney swift tower, several purple martin houses, a large composting area which produced over 1.7 tons of compost this past school year, a nature area, and the planting of over 150 trees on campus.  Our campus is very fortunate in having a “bee tree” with an active hive in it.  We have placed an interpretive sign at the tree to educate students and the public about the importance of bees.

Butterfly gardens are just one aspect of the nature and garden areas at Oak Forest

“As the signs were erected at the end of the school year, we did not have much student input.  However, the science teachers, the principals, and other personnel are very excited about the signs.  Dr. Sconzo, head of Humble ISD is very proud of the campus and what we have accomplished there.  It is always a place where he brings visitors.  We are also copied by other schools in the system, and actually offer help and advice to others hoping to do the same at their campuses.  We feel that the signs will be a great learning tool to add to various educational endeavors that are pursued at the school, not only by the science classes, but also used by teachers with writing projects, art, and even math.  We are so excited!”

Gudrun reports that they are in the process of developing a 5th Grade gardening workbook, with her contributing to the insect pages.  Congratulations to Gudrun and her colleagues for a great project.

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