A planned butterfly garden at Playa del Rey Elementary School in Gilbert is expected to give every grade level a chance to learn in a natural environment. The first-graders can use digital thermometers in the garden while studying about weather, while the second-graders have a place to release their butterflies, an annual project.
Fourth-graders can identify native plants in the garden as they study botany, while fifth-graders can help keep track of funds related to the garden - an activity honing their accounting and math skills.
School librarian Patti Hulet, organizer of the project for more than a year, said the opportunities are endless on how students, and the community, can learn with the butterfly garden.
"We're putting together our butterfly dream team to come up with ideas on how best to tie in the garden to the classrooms," said Hulet, trained as a master gardener last October as part of the project. "We're excited. Our dreams are coming true."
The 25-by-50 foot open-air natural garden is now a barren plot just beyond the back walls of the Gilbert school, next to the McQueen Park Activity Center. The school received permission from the town to use the undeveloped land next to a retention basin.
"How better to support our curriculum," than with a multi-faceted garden, said Principal Robyn Conrad. "It's a great thing for everyone."
Hulet began developing a virtual classroom Web site last spring as the platform for the garden project.
Starting in about a month, Playa del Rey students and staff will be able to visit the Web site to research butterflies, click on video links, take quizzes, do activities and read a blog tracking the garden's development.
Three grants worth more than $10,000 will help fund the project. The grants were received earlier this month - $1,000 from the Gilbert Education Foundation, $1,000 from eSurance and Project Learning Tree and $8,200 from Qwest and Arizona Technology in Education.
The money will be used to buy a laptop computer, projector, SMART Board, weather station, digital cameras and a compost container, Hulet said.
The entire school will be involved in some way in designing, planning and the curriculum process as the butterfly project begins to take wing.
"I'm excited because the kids are getting excited for it," said Hulet, a 2007 Arizona Teacher of the Year winner for her work incorporating agriculture in the classroom. "That's who this whole thing is for."
Hulet wants the community to get involved as well. Groups are welcome to help out, and Hulet is seeking donations of a park bench, a bird bath, native desert plants, and tools.
For information or to donate time or items, call (480) 892-7810 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.