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Madison Juvenile Facility Helps Track Butterfly Migrations

Kirsten Carlson’s classroom may look like any other high school science classroom. But her students are not typical – they are offenders sent to the only women’s juvenile detention center in Indiana.

The science classes at Madison Juvenile Correctional help many students prepare to take the GED. The class is currently rearing monarch butterflies, from egg to caterpillar to adult.

Carlson says the projects in her class can help students with additional aspects of their lives.

“It empowers them and builds their self-esteem. And they enjoy taking care of something and watching it grow,” she says.

Eighteen year old Haylley says she enjoys the nurturing aspect of the butterfly project.

“I help with my sisters at home, they like to act out. So, it’s kind of the same thing,” Haylley says.

Once the adult butterflies emerge, the students tag them and then release the butterflies near a milkweed habitat at the correctional facility. Monarch Watch, a program based at University of Kansas, collects the migration data.

The butterflies will fly south along rivers, all the way to Mexico. Carlson says she encourages the students to look at how their work transcends borders and barriers.

“They’re realizing, hey, whatever I might do has an effect somewhere else in the world. So if we can change a kid’s mentality, then you can change the adult mentality, as they grow into an adult,” Carlson says.

The project creates larger metaphors that are not lost on the students. Haylley wants to become a writer and offers her interpretation of the developing butterflies.

“They really do symbolize life. From being in the caterpillar stage, it symbolizes our youth. When they get older and go into the chrysalis, they are making changes with their life,” Haylley says. “When they are an adult, they’re going out and facing the world.”

The butterflies still have thousands of miles to fly and many of the students still need to serve their months-long sentences, but both have help making their journey home.

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