Catch and release

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

Fluttering wings, exclamations of delight and one third-grade girl’s remark of, “They grow up too fast,” accompanied a release of butterflies by one James Elementary School class Friday.

All of the school’s 26 second- and third-grade classes participate in the Earth’s Birthday Project, which allows students to watch live insects progress through their life cycles in the classroom.

As each class finishes the project, which takes an average of two weeks, students release the bugs.

“It was nice to see a caterpillar turn into a butterfly,” said third-grader Mauro Exiga, whose bilingual class released their butterflies and ladybugs Friday.

Mauro said he liked that the insects grew and his favorite part was the release.

Mauro’s teacher, Estella Rush, said she does the project with her students “because it’s a fun learning experience.” The activity is hands-on and encourages observation, and children are excited about it, she said.

Second-grade teacher Debbie Vinson, who coordinates the Earth’s Birthday Project, said even the most active students are engaged, sit and watch the insects and notice changes.

“It’s that excitement for learning, and they don’t even realize it’s a school project,” she said, adding that students remember the experience years later.

Earth’s Birthday funds James Elementary’s projects, Vinson said.

Jerry Everhart of Eastern New Mexico University introduced the project to Portales several years ago.

This year, teachers could choose from among painted lady butterflies, harvester ants, praying mantises, hornworms and ladybugs.

The kits contain bugs, habitats and hands-on activities.

For example, besides observing ants and butterflies, Vinson’s class drew scale pictures of the ant colony. She said the assignment had students look at size and work on math skills.

The children also learn science and, as they interact during the project, social skills, Vinson said.

Rush said her students get vocabulary and further their grasp of the English language as well.

Third-grader Aymri Chavez’s favorite part of the experience was when the butterflies emerged from their chrysalises. She said she and her classmates looked at the insects every day.

“It was fun and exciting,” Aymri said.