Monarch Mondays: Week 3

Posted on by Dodge

Happy Monday! We’re pleased to share the third in our Monarch Monday series. Today we hear from Hope D’Avino-Jennings of the Bergen Community College Child Development Center.

Hope  - Mexiccan children in El Rosario sanctuary

I have been a preschool teacher at the Bergen Community College Child Development Center, a laboratory school in NJ, for the past 25 years. When I began planning my trip to visit the monarchs in Mexico I had no idea the trip would become a defining spiritual journey. A pre-trip letter from Monarch Teacher Network (MTN) suggested that participants visit a doctor prior to the trip. As a result of that suggestion, I discovered that I had breast cancer. Instead of packing for the trip, I found myself riding a wave of diagnostic procedures. Finally, my doctors approved my trip to Mexico, with surgery scheduled for the day after my return. I packed in a haze, then off I went, traveling with other teachers from New Jersey, other states and Canada.

Personally and professionally, that first Mexico trip was the most defining experience of my life. As I quietly rode on horseback through the high mountain forest of the Sierra Chincua monarch sanctuary, I realized how truly interconnected I was to the forest, the butterflies, the horse and my guide. What a very small thread in this web of life I was, but an enormously important one. I imagined I felt like the preschool children whom I teach: both tiny and huge all at the same time! I was open in a way I had never been before. I wanted to share this joy and wonder with my students. I envisioned having “Circle Time” with my little ones while a river of thousands of monarchs swirled like autumn leaves overhead. I wanted to introduce my New Jersey students to the Mexican students children I met, who were so very much like themselves.

Hope - Traveling stuffed animal with monarch butterfly - Monarch colony Mexico

Because of my illness, upon my return from Mexico I could not return to my classroom that first year. But I had traveled to Mexico with a class mascot, a stuffed raccoon named Yummy. So I created a book for my students about the adventures of Yummy and me in Mexico. And, just like the monarchs, I find that I MUST travel to Mexico each year, and so I have, each year since, with Monarch Teacher Network. This past February was my fourth trip.

My students help me plan for my trips. We create tri-lingual books: Spanish, English and Purhepecha (Purr-HEH-peh-chuh is the language of the indigenous people who live in the area where the butterflies stay each winter),  and games for the Mexican students I meet. We create a quilt to present to a Mexican school as a symbol of friendship. My students create photo albums to share the life of our classroom.

And I return from Mexico with so much to share! Videos from my trip, dances and games from the Mexican students, hand-made Purhepecha embroidery that I display in our classroom, tiny “butterfly fishing boats” for our classroom water table (the Purhepecha people fish with butterfly-shaped nets), Loteria for our classroom game table, and painted butterflies from the sanctuaries which are counted in the math center. My students create papel picado needlework and murals. They prepare frothy, hot chocolate the way the Aztecs did 500 years ago, using a carved wooden utensil called a Molinillo (Mole-le-KNEE-oh). They prepare guacamole with a mortar and pestle made from volcanic rock, exactly as people in Mexico do today. My students listen to music from Michoacán (the butterfly area) and set up a “Market” in our dramatic play area. They create butterflies to place on an oyamel fir tree (a donated artificial Christmas tree—oyamels are the trees in the sanctuaries that protect monarchs through the Mexican winter). Through songs, stories, pictures and art my students and I learn about this distant, magical place where Monarchs go every fall.

The monarch’s cycle of life, including its fall migration, is now at the heart of our curriculum. The curriculum stems from student interest in monarchs and the outdoor environment near our school. My students are intensely curious about Mexico. Where is this place? Who lives there? What is it like there? My students feel a sense of pride and accomplishment that they are helping nature “raise a butterfly.” They become teachers as they share their knowledge with their parents and with community college students on our campus.

The teachers and directors of Monarch Teacher Network, both here, in Mexico and Canada have enriched my life in ways that are precious. Mexico has become my sanctuary. In turn I have become a more inspired teacher.

I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to the Dodge Foundation for their support of this project and for giving me and other teachers the opportunity to participate in this amazing journey.

Every teacher who has the privilege to go to Mexico and witness the monarch spectacle has their own story to tell. Like me, they will be inspired to tell that story and bring the joy of that experience back to their students.

Below are links with photos and information from three of my trips to Mexico with Monarch Teacher Network.

Best wishes on the wings of butterflies,
Hope D’Avino-Jennings

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12 Responses to Monarch Mondays: Week 3

  1. Cathy B Griffin says:

    You have brought so much to the Monarch Teacher Network! And to the children and families whose lives you touch. Thanks for all you do for the Monarchs.

  2. Bruce England says:

    Greetings Hope!
    What a wonderful blog, and what wonderful memories it brought back to me of my trips to Mexico, my time spent with other teachers with like interests, the Mexican people, the countryside, and of course, the monarchs!
    Keep Flappin’!

  3. Karen First says:

    Your story is so inspiring Hope! Your classroom sounds like an amazing place. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to travel with you and I wish you the best!
    Karen F.

  4. Sue Flanzman says:

    All I can say is wow! You and Sally and everyone else at the CDC are by far the most inspiring and brilliant and committed teachers that I have ever known. Your efforts to bring your experiences to your students is so amazing. Emily, Dylan and Hannah were so lucky to be graduates of your program. I would love to go on that trip one day. In fact, what am I waiting for? Maybe I can make arrangements for that soon! I would love to go with my kids and share the amazement of the monarchs also. Hope all is well.


  5. Joan Dalrymple says:

    Hope–Thanks for sharing your story. The children love learning about the monarch butterflies and it teaches them so many wonderful things about life and the world we live in. Thank you for all you do to teach our children about the monarchs.

  6. ellie d'avino says:

    Beautifully written and inspiring. You never fail to amaze me. I must have done something right.


  7. leslie penny says:

    Dear Hope, we met a couple of times at the Monarch summer workshops in Bergen County and I had the good fortune of visiting your classroom that summer. Just wanted to let you know how inspiring and beautifully written your article is. Hope our paths meet again sometime! Leslie

  8. Hope,

    I agree with your Mom.

    Erik Mollenhauer

  9. Mary Lenahan says:

    I so enjoyed traveling with you to Mexico last year! Excellent blog article! You are an inspiration to us all. 🙂

    Mary Lenahan

  10. Hi Hope,

    I was so touched by your story. You are definitely one of a kind. I feel so lucky to have share this beautiful experience with an extraordinary woman like you. I’ll see you this summer ):(

    Sarita 🙂

  11. […] their stories of transformation with us. We hope that you have felt as inspired by Mary, Sarita, Hope and Maren as we […]

  12. Hope,
    Traveling in Mexico and sharing some of the most miraculous Mexico moments over the past 3 years, Sierra Chincua and the guitar guy, our beautiful Basilica de la Madre de la Salud in Patzcuaro, both walking up into el Rosario with Luella and Lin who inspired me so much, dancing and celebrating with Teresita, her students and the entire island of Pacanda, walking up that incredible staircase to the spot where the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego over 400 years ago and finally giving homage to the Sun God at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Oh, almost forgot, staying up until the wee hours of the morning in hotel lobbies, computer rooms or whereever there was an internet connection, posting on our websites to share our excitement with our students and the rest of the world . I hope and pray we’ll do it again some day soon!

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