HISD students save butterflies through Monarch Heroes program

As clouds of monarch butterflies migrate south for the winter, many of them pass through Houston, where a special program allows HISD students to provide nectar-rich flowers and milkweed to nourish them. 

Twenty-one HISD schools are participating in the Monarch Heroes program this school year, allowing students to create monarch habitat gardens to reverse the decline of the species.  

The two-year program is part of the National Wildlife Federation Eco-Schools USA Program, the nation’s largest comprehensive green school program. 

Energy and Sustainability Quality Assurance Analyst Stephanie Walker facilitated a five-year contract between HISD and NWF that includes Monarch Heroes. 

“Our job is to create different learning opportunities to captivate the attention of our students,” Walker said. “The butterfly gardens serve as outdoor classrooms where students can better relate to the concepts they’re learning.” 

Twelve campuses were accepted into Monarch Heroes this fall. Nine campuses, including Garden Oaks Montessori and Travis Elementary School, are on their second year of the program.  

Each school receives $1,500 and must assemble a team of three to four teachers, including a science and math teacher, community member, librarian, counselor, or assistant principal. 

Garden Oaks seventh-grader Dhevan Sluiter planted milkweed in his school’s butterfly garden. 

“I love that we can see the garden progressing and see how it would be in the wild,” Sluiter said. “Hopefully we’ll see the monarchs multiplying more and more.”  

Mira Balakrishnan, whose children attend Garden Oaks, said Monarch Heroes can also serve as a pathway to increase parent engagement and strengthen the school’s tie with the community. 

“A school should be a living part of the community instead of a structure,” Balakrishnan said. 

Travis Elementary School had already incorporated monarch butterflies into its curriculum before joining Monarch Heroes, but the grant helped them expand their garden and begin to transition from tropical to native milkweed. 

“We cut down the tropical milkweed, so they won’t be attracted and lay eggs and have their offspring die,” Travis third-grader Zane Steele said.  

Piney Point Elementary School was one of the first campuses to participate in the Monarch Heroes program in 2015 and it continues to have lasting effects on the campus.  

Since the school is no longer eligible for grant funds, students raise “Monarch Money” by hand-decorating 1,400 envelopes every year to encourage donations. Students also sing songs, write poems, and create artwork to honor the butterflies.