By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — Tucked into right side of the building at Pope John XXIII Regional High School is a garden.
It’s no ordinary garden that the school had installed by landscapers.
It is a Monarch Waystation, built by past Pope John students, and it is now springing into action.
This year, Mrs. Dunbar’s Environmental Science classes have been able to examine the numerous plants, flowers and insects — mainly monarch butterflies — that have developed in the crescent-shaped waystation right next door to her classroom.
“We got a pretty cool experience with this,” Pope John senior Alexander Martinez-Partida said Wednesday. “Not too many schools have this type of garden, so it’s amazing that we are starting to see things and we can show to everyone.”
The idea of a Monarch Waystation first came to Mrs. Dunbar back in the fall of 2014 when she read a story in the New Jersey Herald about the decline of monarch butterflies. After reading it, Mrs. Dunbar started kicking around the possibility of having an area to produce Monarch butterflies.
Luckily for her, Mrs. Dunbar got some good news.
“The administration said, ‘We can do this,’” Mrs. Dunbar said. “I had always wanted to use the area, but they were saving it to develop this area for future use. So when they said we had enough land to put in a conservation garden, I was excited.”
After getting approval, Mrs. Dunbar, along with her students in her Environmental Science classes at the time, the Environmental Club and the Green Team, started the long process of building this Monarch Waystation. A Monarch Waystation is an area that provides “resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration,” according to MonarchWatch.org
They built up the beds using topsoil, garden soil, manure and other organic products. They also brought in the proper plants and flowers they needed to help build up the habitat.
Once it was built up, the waiting game began to see if any larva, bugs or other insects would develop.
Then, all of a sudden at the beginning of August of this year, a monarch butterfly came to the waystation. Mrs. Dunbar couldn’t believe this happened when she saw it.
“I was so excited,” Mrs. Dunbar said. “Right away, I took a picture of it. I sent it everyone in the Science department and told them that a monarch finally came to us after three and a half years.”
Since the sighting, the Monarch butterfly has left the area, but Mrs. Dunbar’s senior and junior students in her Environmental Science classes have found three caterpillars. Martinez-Partida was thrilled about it because he is also a member of the Environmental Club and has been following the development of the waystation for the last two years.
“We’ve been trying to build it up to have this happen,” Martinez-Partida said. “Now that we are having caterpillars show up, it’s been great and seeing everyone’s reaction to them is priceless.”
Then there are students like senior Catalina Aranda, who saw the waystation for the first time this year and were amazed by what they saw.
“It’s interesting how many things we have brought in,” Pope John senior Catalina Aranda said. “I walked by it everyday and thought it was just a plain garden.
Martinez-Partida and Aranda also loved how they were able to get a hands-on experience with it during their class.
“It’s very interactive,” Aranda said. “It’s cool to see how everything blossomed and use an app on our iPad to learn about each plant, bug and species in it.”
“Being able to use this garden with all of the technology we have is the coolest thing ever,” Martinez-Partida added.
Moreover, they look forward to maintaining this waystation so future Pope John students can see all of the organisms, especially the monarch butterfly, live in it.
“I feel like we are all going to get personal with it,” Aranda said. “There are a lot of cool things in there. We want to protect them, take good care of it and show the future generations how great this is.”