Not too long ago it was a mostly bare patch of land in a back corner of the playground at Grace Christian School. Then a few weeks ago, the kindergarten, first- and second-grade students rolled up their sleeves and got to work under the guidance of their teachers. They painted arbors, some fencing and a big ceramic planting pot that would make the perfect centerpiece. They spread dirt and dug holes.
Some parents and local businesses pitched in with donations so students could plant the kinds of things a butterfly might like: milkweed for the monarchs, passion vine for the Gulf fritillary and zebra longwings, cassias for the sulfers, ruella and snapdragons for the white peacocks.
That, according to kindergartener Mia Dowling, "was the best thing."
"I liked planting the flowers," she said in a very earnest kind of way.
The students then took a vote and came up with a name for their garden: the Fluttering Field.
Finally on Oct. 7 came the grand release. Everyone in the school came out to watch as about 75 butterflies were set free. Some took to the sky, others to plants. Some landed on people.
"I liked when it landed on my head," Hannah Hyland said with a giggle. "It tickled."
The butterflies were a gift of sorts, from Karen Iovino, whose children, Nicholas and Christina, attend the school. Each year, Iovino brings in cocoons harvested from her home butterfly garden in Port Richey so students can watch the butterflies emerge in their classrooms.
"I had saved about 40 monarchs (for the release)," Iovino said. "But I wanted the release to be larger."
So Iovino and her friend and fellow parent Dodi Bocchini went out searching for more, equipped with butterfly nets the day before and morning of the release.
They did well. The white peacocks were an especially prized catch, Iovino said.
Hopefully the newly released butterflies will stick around to lay their eggs on the newly planted host plants so there will be butterflies aplenty at Grace Christian long into the future.
Then again, some of the monarchs might choose to move on, perhaps to their hibernation spot in Mexico.
The school has applied for certification as a way station for migrating monarchs, through a program called Monarch Watch. While some of the orange and black butterflies will likely choose to stay put, others might take respite in the Grace Christian School garden during their annual trek to Mexico. The school should get word this week on whether it has been approved, Iovino said.
The garden is just another way of educating students about what's going on in the world around them and in their own school yard.
"They can learn so much. They can learn all about the host plants; watch the process from caterpillar to butterfly," Iovino said. "It could be something that will stick with them for years to come."