Eagle County students set free their butterflies | VailDaily.com

Eagle County students set free their butterflies

Mary Kelley Zeleskey
Vail, CO Colorado
NWS Butterfly Launch RS 5-31-12

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – What better way to teach 550 third-graders about the cycle of life than to give each of them a caterpillar to watch emerge into a butterfly?

On Thursday, at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail’s Ford Park, 26 classrooms from 12 elementary schools in Eagle County came together for the annual butterfly launch.

“It’s a great combination of learning and a lot of fun on the actual launch day,” said Nicola Ripley, the gardens’ director.

The teachers run their curriculum around the event and each of the students receives a kit about a month before the launch to begin feeding the caterpillars and watching them grow.

“My favorite part was watching the caterpillars get fatter and fatter and fatter,” said Jensen Rawlings, a third-grader at Eagle Valley Elementary.

For this particular project, Ripley says that “timing is of the essence” in order to set the butterflies free as soon as they are ready.

According to Shari Rodeen, office manager of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, the timing has been better than ever this year in making sure the butterflies are ready to be set free on the day of the launch.

“It gave my son a real sense of how hardy yet fragile these butterflies are because of what they had been through,” said Heather Rawlings, Jensen’s mom.

Jensen said he was scared that the students would accidently harm the butterflies after setting them free, but was relieved when he saw the butterflies flying around him.

Teachers at Brush Creek and Gypsum elementary schools said they enjoyed the project because it’s a bonding experience for their students.

“For my class, I think it really gave them an appreciation for nature and for the process,” said Heather Cremeans, a teacher at Gypsum Elementary.

Rawlings said that her son thought it was amazing how much has to go into the process and how many things can go wrong from start to finish for the caterpillar to grow into a butterfly.

“To have the kids not just read about it or have their teacher tell them about it but to actually witness the whole thing happening made the kids really excited about learning it,” said Ann Olin, a teacher at Brush Creek Elementary.

Once the students have released their butterflies, the launch is followed by educational games such as butterfly tic-tac-toe.

“I think one thing that is so unique about this opportunity is the fact that the kids get to connect with the other third-graders,” Cremeans said. “It really makes an impact on them to realize ‘Wow! All third grades are doing this?'”

The launch has been held annually for about 10 years but the event was particularly special this year due to its record breaking number of students who participated from 12 different private and public schools in the county.

The Butterfly Pavilion from Denver also made its first visit to the event this year.

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, the largest botanical garden in America at 8,250 feet above sea level, hosts the launch without any cost to the schools.

Both United Way of the Eagle River Valley and the Holy Cross Energy Round-Up Foundation sponsor the event.

Ripley says that the whole event is beneficial also to Betty Ford Alpine Gardens because after seeing the gardens, some of the students bring their parents or siblings back for a visit in the summer.

“I think this is kind of their way of giving back to the schools, so I think that is very cool,” Olin said.

For more information about the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, call 970-476-0103 or visit http://www.bettyfordalpinegardens.org