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Flight of the Monarchs

01 Mar Flight of the Monarchs

Teacher Amber Lowe traveled to Mexico on a faculty Travel Grant to study the monarch butterfly. Kindergartners study the butterfly during the fall and release monarchs during Advent’s Annual Butterfly Parade. Amber visited the butterfly’s winter home to learn about their migration patterns. Here, she shares a recap of her trip.

My adventure began in Mexico City. With a free day to explore, I spent the morning at painter Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul. Now the Frida Kahlo Museum, this was the home and studio Frida shared with her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera.

In 2004, Frida’s colorful wardrobe was discovered hidden away in a bathroom in the home. It is now on display as a moving testament to the artist’s personal sense of style, artistic design, and fortitude. Her studio space was especially inspiring, with her jars of pigment, paintbrushes, and easel laid out carefully as though Frida might return. It was thrilling to visit her home.

That afternoon I visited the Palacio Nacional to see Diego Rivera’s murals. His murals depict the history of Mexico. They were impressive, to say the least! I finished the day enjoying a cerveza and watching the sun set over the city.

The next day I met the group I was traveling with, G Adventures, set off for the beautiful colonial town of Patzcuaro. This area is well known for their Dia de los Muertos celebration. Papel picado, paper cutouts used for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, are everywhere!

A local archeologist then brought us to Tzintzuntzan (“place of hummingbirds”), which is the site of ancient ruins from the Tarascan state. That afternoon we traveled by boat to the island of Janitzio. The town is famous for the “butterfly fishermen” who use uniquely shaped butterfly nets. On the top of the island is a large statue of José María Morelos, a hero of Mexico’s independence. I climbed up the many flights of stairs into the fist of Morelos to take in the view!

I spent the next two days in the city of Morelia as the group worked our way up into the mountain region where the monarch butterflies migrate each year. This area of Mexico is known for its mountains and volcanoes. There were many incredible views!

Next, we travelled to the small town Angangueo. From here we would travel daily to the monarch sanctuaries open to the public: El Rosario, El Capulin, and Sierra Chincua. The monarch butterflies cluster together in colonies high up in the mountains. Locals monitor the movement of the monarchs and will guide you up the mountainside to view them. The hour to two-hour hikes were well worth it to get a close encounter with these amazing creatures. Photos don’t quite capture the feeling of being surrounded by monarch butterflies and the incredible sound of thousands of fluttering wings. Thank you to my fellow traveler Dennis Shige for sharing his beautiful photos with me.

Each year, the Kindergarten students learn about and celebrate Dia de los Muertos. This project is a collaboration between both Kindergarten classrooms and our Spanish teacher, Vicky de la Garza. Monarch butterflies arrive in Mexico around Dia de los Muertos and, for the local people, the monarch represents the souls of their ancestors returning during this special celebration. The students dedicated this year’s altar to Frida Kahlo and created self-portraits inspired by her work.

I am so grateful to have been awarded The Advent School Travel Grant. It is such an amazing part of our School that adds to the experience of Advent teachers and the community as a whole. I look forward to continuing to share my incredible experience in Mexico with future students during our yearly monarch butterfly study in Kindergarten.