HAEF grant transforms butterfly garden at South into an outdoor classroom


The Harlingen High School South Ecology Club was inspired by Homero Gomez Gonzalez, a fierce defender of Central Mexico’s monarch butterfly population, to start a butterfly garden on campus four years ago.

“He was constantly fighting with logging companies to stop the destruction of the monarch’s habitat,” HHSS science teacher and ecology club sponsor Ruth Salazar said. “Unfortunately, in January of 2020, he lost his battle with the logging companies when he passed away. He inspired my ecology club members to continue his passion to save the endangered monarch.”

This year, with a renewed passion, students at Harlingen High School South are working on transforming their butterfly garden into an outdoor classroom with the help of the Harlingen Area Educational Foundation.

“My students and I want to create a lasting memory of the importance of saving an endangered species,” Salazar said. “My students feel that if we educate our entire campus about endangered species, then we can make the world a better place.”

Salazar applied for and received a grant from HAEF to add 100% recycled plastic benches to the butterfly garden at Harlingen High School South in order to create an outdoor learning space where students can spread awareness on how to preserve and protect the endangered species.

“The outdoor classroom currently has two benches that need to be installed, and more need to come in before the outdoor classroom can be complete,” Salazar said. “The engraved benches will recognize the foundation with its insignia, HAEF.”

Through research, students learned that monarchs thrive best in ecosystems that provide native milkweed plants. So, they built planter boxes in their garden and filled them with milkweeds to attract the monarch away from Texas Highways.

“Thousands of monarchs die each year as they migrate from Mexico into the United States,” Salazar said.  “Most of them are hit by passing cars as they migrate through the Rio Grande Valley in search of food.”

The outdoor classroom in the butterfly garden at Harlingen High School South would allow butterflies to have a sanctuary while also being a space where students can go and continue Homero Gomez Gonzalez’s legacy. The outdoor classroom will be used to learn about native species and how to protect the environment starting locally in the Valley.

The transformation of the butterfly garden at Harlingen High School South is currently a work in progress.

The Ecology Club is constantly planting new plants, repairing planter boxes, and pruning pre-existing plants in the soon-to-be outdoor classroom.

“The creation of an outdoor classroom in the butterfly garden will be a stepping-stone to our campus being labeled as a Native Plant Habitat in the Rio Grande Valley,” Salazar said. “This will ensure that native milkweed plants will continue to be planted in the butterfly garden for future generations to come. It will also ensure that our future generations will be able to enjoy an outdoor classroom environment.”

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