Students at St. Mary's Elementary School in Joplin are enjoying their first full season of their school's butterfly garden, which was replanted last spring after having been destroyed in the 2011 tornado.

Started by fourth grade teacher Debi Staton, the original garden was completed in the spring of 2011, just before it and the rest of the school campus were destroyed in the storm. After three years in a temporary school and now having settled into the new school on South Central City Road, Staton felt the time was right to replant the garden on the new campus and to involve her pupils.

"They're getting to do everything in terms of the full circle of taking care of it," she said.

The garden, funded by a grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation, is on the north side of the school, near the kindergarten and prekindergarten rooms. It contains a variety of pollinator-friendly flowers, including wild hydrangea, copper iris, aster, milkweed, shining blue star and rigid goldenrod.

It will be of particular use to the second grade classes, which study metamorphosis and the life cycle of a butterfly as part of their curriculum, Staton said. But her students also are getting hands-on lessons as they study the wildlife — beyond butterflies — that has been attracted to the plants, the mushrooms that have popped up among the plants, and the dispersal of seeds as plants grow and bloom.

"We're learning a lot," she said, "and just the fact that we can be out in nature (is good)."

On a recent afternoon, Staton's class was helping to weed the garden and tidy it after torrential rains. Fourth grader Sunny Williams, 10, said she enjoyed working in the garden, but she was surprised at how much work it was.

Fourth grader Grady Gorman, 9, has been amazed with all the wildlife he has seen while working out there.

"We found a bunch of earthworms, and they were super long," he said, clutching a handful of weeds he had just plucked from the mulch. "We've seen a bunch of frogs, and we've seen crickets. We had caterpillars in our room and we were taking care of them, and then we released them. Wildlife lives all over this place, and we should take care of the earth more."

Emily Younker is the assistant metro editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.

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