The annual butterfly release is a signature event at Webster Hill Elementary School in West Hartford, and at Friday’s ceremony the community also honored former Principal Jeff Wallowitz.
By Ronni Newton
More than 100 Monarch butterflies flexed their wings Friday afternoon, and as the entire Webster Hill Elementary School student body sang the words to a special new song they had written and recorded – “It’s Time for You to Fly” – the butterflies took to the sky to begin their journey to Mexico.
Some butterflies lingered in the courtyard, landing on plants as well as the hands of delighted children.
The butterfly release is now a 22-year-old tradition at Webster Hill Elementary School that takes place every year around the third week of September.
Principal Melissa Behrens, herself a Webster Hill alum, said that over the course of the season about 300 Monarchs in all would be released.
Ninety-percent of the butterflies released at Webster Hill started as eggs laid in the milkweed that the community has planted around the school, Behrens said. Over the summer, families, as well as staff, care for the caterpillars that hatch from the eggs, feeding them milkweed, and watch in wonder as they form chrysalises and become Monarch butterflies.
Raising and releasing the butterflies is a celebration of science and nature, and involves the entire school community, as well as neighbors and a devoted group of former parents who never miss the heart-warming experience of a butterfly release ceremony.
Jeff Wallowitz, who was principal at Webster Hill for 11 years before taking a Central Office position this fall, and prior to that was a teacher there, returned for Friday’s ceremony.
Prior to the opening of the butterfly enclosures, Pre-K and kindergarten students sang a “butterfly life cycle” song for the community.
Parent volunteer Attie Lordan, who spearheads the raising of the butterflies, led the opening of the enclosures. Lordan, a longtime Webster Hill parent, said her father was a master gardener in Ireland, where she grew up. She knew about plants, but since becoming involved at Webster Hill has dedicated herself to learning about butterflies.
Music teacher Jessica Nix explained that the new song performed Friday began when 17 of last year’s fifth-grade students wrote lyrics and the melody, composed the music, and recorded the song. Several of the alumni returned for the release.
The lyric told the story of the butterflies, and former West Hartford Public Schools music teacher Rob Hugh assisted with the process and recording, and worked with Nix “to arrange, mix, and master the song.” Former instrumental music teacher Dan Green also helped with recording of the instrumentals and the backing track, Nix said.
“The hard work and dedication of these students has created something beautiful,” Nix said of the new song.
The history of the butterfly release at Webster Hill dates back in 1997 when, with assistance from a grant, some very hard-working parent volunteers transformed unused and neglected space in the school’s courtyard, turning it into the “Living Courtyard” into a science and research center, and creating an environment to attract and nurture Monarchs. Since then, Webster Hill has become known as the “Butterfly School.”
“This dream led to what we see before us now,” Behrens told the community Friday. “Webster Hill became the site of Connecticut’s very first butterfly house.”
The students tag the butterflies, and researchers from the University of Kansas track their migration route to Mexico. “For over 20 years we have kept up this tradition of investigating the travel patterns of these beautiful butterflies,” Behrens said.
During Friday’s release, the school also celebrated and honored Wallowitz, giving him several gifts. Curriculum Specialist Sabrina Motyka said that a set of wind chimes “with a special note at the bottom to remember his kindness,” will be kept in the courtyard to remind them of what Wallowitz has done for the school.
Motyka also gave Wallowitz keepsake books with special memories that were made by the students.
Wallowitz said that “Webster Hill has always felt like home to me. There is so much that makes this place special.” He shared several examples, and said he will miss everyone.
He also thanked the parents for the impact they have made on the school.
Lordan was thanked with a butterfly vase filled with “the type of flowers that butterflies love,” Behrens said.
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