Southside Occupational Academy: Southside Monarch Butterfly Conservation Program

Students: 48
Staff: 8
Mentor: Kristen Dimas
Project type: Habitat Restoration
Location: Chicago, IL
Grade levels: all students

Southside Occupational Academy's project won the Judges' Choice award for the 21-22 cohort of the Illinois Green Schools Project.

Southside Occupational Academy is a CPS transition school serving young adults with intellectual & physical disabilities, ages 18-22, located in the West Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s southside. The students in Room 305 Horticulture classes in the Urban Agriculture Program read about the decline in the monarch butterfly population. They decided to take action and commit to developing a permanent Southside Monarch Butterfly Conservation Program to increase monarch habitat spaces on their main campus and in the neighborhoods their students live in. They hope to serve as a model to the greater Chicagoland area to show that, with the appropriate accommodations and assistance, people with disabilities can be actively involved with programs that bring positive change to our communities and to our environment.

The program they designed is cyclical in nature to follow the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and the needs of the insect at each stage of its development. As they researched actions we could take to support monarch habitats, they chose activities that correlate with the seasonal changes in our environment and climate in the Chicago area.

Southside Occupational Academy has a very large attendance area, with their students coming from all over the southside of Chicago. Many of the neighborhoods their students live in have experienced loss of natural habitat spaces for monarch butterflies and other native species of beneficial insects and wildlife. Because of this, they chose to also incorporate program components that provide outreach into the communities they serve in the form of education, seed and plant distribution, and eventually connections with community garden spaces close to our students’ homes. Since their monarch conservation program is projected to be a permanent program at Southside, they hope this outreach will make a measurable impact on the southside neighborhoods the school serves by increasing the number of natural habitat areas available to monarch butterflies and other pollinator species.

Horticulture students harvested, labeled, and distributed milkweed seed packets to 300+ families of students at Southside. An additional 150+ seed packets were available for distribution at the Flower & Garden Show, and even more will be available for distribution through their participation at the 95th Street Farmers Market and connections with community gardens in the school's attendance area.

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The most significant aspect of Southside's program is the fact that all of the student participants are young adults with disabilities. The accommodations and assistance required to meet the needs of their students ranged from hand-over-hand assistance and prompting to independent functioning with minimal prompting. This assistance and these accommodations are well worth the effort to provide the opportunity for people with disabilities to participate in environmental action. Most environmental and conservation programs do not include or even consider people with disabilities as their participants. The monarch conservation at Southside serves as an example that the Earth belongs to us all and we are all capable and valuable beings who can make a positive difference for the future of our environment.