BRIGHT FUTURES — Current, former Thomas Jefferson students working together to better environment

Published 7:01 am Monday, July 4, 2022

With inspiration from the present and support from the past, the students at Thomas Jefferson Middle School will soon be working to improve the future.

Beginning this coming school year, the science department will use a Monarch butterfly preservation habitat to teach students about the importance of butterflies and how their migration pattern assists the whole ecosystem.

“Some people are not aware of how the Monarch effects our environment,” said eighth grade science teacher Asther Reyes. “An environment must be clean and nurturing to their growth. If butterflies don’t visit, it usually means the area is polluted.”

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Along with science teachers Jessica Boudreaux and Lilly Flugence, Reyes is constructing the habitat in an unused courtyard on campus. The idea came in part when thinking of educational ways to utilize the outdoors due of the pandemic.

And in April, the department was gifted with a $5,000 grant from Port Arthur LNG as part of the Environmental Champions Initiative.

The project, Reyes said, serves three basic principals: build a habitat and feeding station for butterflies, provide an area where the students can research the Monarch butterfly and report their count to a weigh station at University of Kansas, and use their knowledge to educate the community.

“As an educator, I believe the best way to plant knowledge starts with the kids,” Reyes said. “When they get excited, it’s the best way to bring it back to the community.”

But the latter is already in motion, even before the center has been built.

Word of the project made its way to the Thomas Jefferson High School Class of 1977. And in part with their upcoming 45-year reunion, members of the class have reached out to partner with the school that carries the namesake of the one they once attended.

“When we came up with the idea to want to give back, that was the perfect opportunity,” said Becky Tschirhart. “It will teach the students how to work together.”

Tschirhart and other class members reached out to Reyes, who will speak about the project at the reunion.

“I thought if we could bring some awareness to it, the community might want to get behind it,” Tschirhart said. “We hope other classes that follow us will promote it.”

But when the center opens, the project will also serve classmates not able to participate.

“Because we’ve been out of school so long, we’ve lost a lot of classmates and we wanted to figure out a way to memorialize them,” Tschirhart said. “What better way than with butterflies. At some point there will be a butterfly release. It’s almost a spiritual thing — they’re there where it all began for us.”

Reyes made a similar connection while complimenting the Class of 1977’s partnership.

“They are also like butterflies,” she said. “They want their journey to be significant.”