Christine Voight's classroom is a long walk from the J.D. Floyd Elementary School front entrance. It sits apart from the main buildings among the trees, the walkway flanked by rectangular stones with green frogs painted on them.
The area in front of her portable classroom is butterfly friendly. It has milkweed, hibiscus, periwinkles, lantana and plumbago. It has fruit trees. Voight recently harvested her first lemon. The area is mulched and tidy.
At the beginning of the school year, the land was as wooded as that behind the classroom. Voight put her environmental students to work. "We started clearing land in August," said seventh-grader Jessica Pulaski, 12.
Students learned to use shovels, rakes and pitchforks. They took out weeds, grass and roots. "Everything was out of it except the sand," said seventh-grader Paul Rader, 14.
Then Voight's seventh- and eighth-grade students transformed the property into the butterfly garden, accented with a waterfall and pond.
"We dug out the hole for the pond while the plants were being put in," said seventh-grader John Katsanakis, 13, who explained that three students were mostly responsible for building the actual pond, "Walter Foster, Kenny Webster and Adam Marriott."
There are more plans for the pond besides aesthetics and the calming sound of falling water. "We're probably going to get some koi," Jessica said.
Everyone else chipped in to create the rest of the garden. "We have a lot of milkweed in here for the butterflies," said Jessica. "We have a lime tree and a lemon tree," added Diego Gomez, 13.
The students put in about 700 flowers, trees and shrubs. "We got grants from Progress Energy and Home Depot," Jessica said.
There was a lot more to the butterfly garden than just putting it in, though. "They've done reports and made replicas of butterflies or birds," Voight said. They have studied monarch butterfly migration, life cycles, anatomy and flight pattern characteristics.
John did his report on the zebra longwings. "I learned a lot about that butterfly," he said. "It's considered the smartest butterfly."
Although reports were a big part of the whole butterfly project, the students say it was the outdoors activities they enjoyed the most. "I liked planting the plants the best, because it brought in new butterflies that we could observe and it definitely brought in color," said seventh-grader Lexie Celt, 13.
"I really enjoyed planting all the trees and it was also a lot of fun making the replica of the birds or butterflies we chose,'' Jessica said. "We learned a lot about their physical features."
Seventh-grade Jenna Kelly, 12, also liked being outside. "I liked going out every day and seeing the new chrysalises on the new plants," she said.
Paul liked the physical side of the project. "My favorite part was helping out with all the work," he said. "I helped to dig."
Now that the garden is in, it requires maintenance. The students rake, weed and water. There are two sprinklers, but watering is done by hand, too.
Another project, this time for birds, has already taken students out behind the portable into the woods. They call it Phase II. They are identifying tree clusters for bird and butterfly boxes. "We're going to build paths," said Lexie.
"This will be a great bird habitat," said John.