The Monarch Butterfly Project: Real World Leadership

What leadership lessons can students learn from tracking butterfly migration patterns? Plenty, if their science teacher is Julie Frey. Ms. Frey has a knack for turning children into scientists. In fact, she used the Monarch butterfly as a vehicle for a year-long, “real world” project that allowed children to engage in science, field work, conservation design, social media, community service, and leadership training.

Below, I’m delighted to share a reflection written by Ms. Frey. If you want to learn more, I invite you to follow Ms. Frey’s Monarch Project Facebook page – a page that has attracted the attention of more than 900 individuals and organizations from across the country.


Warm weather has finally made its way to north Texas after an extended winter of late freezes. For the sixth grade class, this has meant one of the latest Monarch butterfly arrivals in history.

After the first campus sighting of the spring season, two groups of students spent after-school hours monitoring our two milkweed gardens with magnifying lenses in search of Monarch eggs. They knew that the very butterflies that they documented in the fall would return to lay these eggs — and so the full circle of migration ends and begins again!

The sixth graders have been on an amazing journey this year. I have watched them raise two generations of Monarchs, tag and release them, and embrace the notion that they are integral agents in the task of conservation.

But there is another skill I’ve tried to foster in them: leadership. Modeling is a great way for children to be exposed to leadership, but to truly become leaders, they must have a chance to act. This year, thirty-one students took on the challenge of leaving campus and representing Trinity Valley in the larger community.

One group spent two weeks building a Monarch garden at Sunrise Senior Living. I have never seen soil, plants and mulch move so fast; twenty-two sixth graders don’t move slowly! But they also showed patience and compassion as they helped their new senior friends plant milkweed seeds.

Two more groups of students became preschool teachers. They shared a lesson about these amazing butterflies at the Fort Worth and Benbrook libraries to excited young children. They had to work on specific skillsets that, at times, took them out of their comfort zones. We practiced speaking loudly and clearly, properly addressing adults and children, and creating lesson procedures for each station.

As we loaded the bus for the library, toting 14 fluttering Monarchs, I rallied the students’ spirits with a quick quiz on Monarch facts and trivia. We reiterated the qualities of a great leader, and I watched them bounce off the bus adorned with their project t-shirts, lanyards and smiles.

After making a quick introduction, I stepped aside and simply observed. Here’s what I saw: They engaged with adults using eye contact and guided little ones with comfort and confidence. As I circulated the room, I heard students answer questions effectively, watched their patient guidance with crafts, and noticed their kind gestures. I watched my students build puzzles on the floor, help two year olds name caterpillars, and explain how a butterfly drinks.

“Do you want to see what a wing looks like under the microscope?” one sixth grade boy asked a timid little girl. She perched up on the chair — balancing on her knees — looked into the microscope and quietly gasped “Wow!” He continued to show her the difference between a male and a female Monarch as she raptly listened. Each station that I went to had similar incredible moments.

As I watched my children teaching younger children with a positive attitude and a smile, I saw tomorrow’s leaders. As an educator, I cannot imagine a greater feeling.


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