MANTENO — Manteno resident Shannyn “Butterfly Lady” Dockery received a Harmony Hero Award for teaching students about the environment through a gardening and ecology program she helped start at Reavis Elementary School in Lansing, Ill.
EarthKind, a pest repellent company specializing in products that repel but don’t harm pests, is giving the recognition to a different K-12 teacher each month for its 2021 Year of the Monarch campaign.
Dockery received the company’s first Harmony Hero Award for her work to start an EARTH (Ecology, Awareness, Research, Technology and Horticulture) program at Reavis, where she teaches first grade.
To receive the recognition, the teacher has to show a commitment to eco-education initiatives in their curriculum, with the focus on getting kids outdoors and connected with nature at a young age.
“Throughout such a challenging time, Dockery’s efforts shed a bright light to young students, instilling passion about protecting and living in harmony with nature,” according to an EarthKind press release.
A video interview with Dockery can be viewed on EarthKind’s YouTube channel.
Each winner receives free educational and promotional materials and is entered into a contest for the grand prize — an all-expenses-paid trip to the Kingdom of Monarchs habitat in Mexico’s Central Highlands to witness the migration of millions of monarch butterflies in March 2022.
Dockery, who grew up in Geneva and has taught in Lansing for eight years, started the EARTH program in collaboration with three other teachers at her school.
The group began with the concept of a gardening club to give students more hands-on learning activities but quickly realized they wanted it to be more involved.
They put in 90 hours of plan time before the program got off the ground to figure out how it could be sustained long term.
“We wanted to make sure this was something that could last for years, not just one or two seasons,” she said.
The team reached out to Master Gardeners, partnered with a University of Illinois extension, and watched the program grow from there. The EARTH program is now in its third year.
When students first go outside and get a look at the real, adult-sized gardening tools they will be using, it’s clear that they are “just itching to get into the soil,” Dockery said.
Dockery, who has monarch-friendly milkweed plants growing in her own garden at home, incorporates lessons about the endangered butterflies.
“We take a good week or two of our program and devote it to the butterfly population,” she said. “We see it all year long with the butterflies coming in and out, and seeing their life cycles. In the winter, we talk about how they are migrating to Mexico. It’s a big part of our program.”
She also discusses the importance of the milkweed plant, as it is the only plant monarchs lay their eggs on and the only plant their caterpillars will eat, and explains the decline of the plant due to factors like construction and housing developments.
Dockery shares her passion for monarch butterflies with anyone who will listen, she said.
“If I can get one person to plant one more milkweed plant, then it’s all worth it,” Dockery said.
She takes particular pride in teaching students about the possibilities and options with gardening since a lot of children in Lansing live in apartments or townhomes that don’t have yards.
“Every year, we have kids who don’t know where broccoli comes from or how tomatoes grow,” she said. “We always make a point to grow eggplant because it’s something they usually have never seen or tried.”
At the end of the harvest, students get to sample foods from the garden. One student said he was inspired to become a chef, and Dockery pledged to eat wherever he ends up cooking in the future.
Dockery said that if she wins the grand prize trip to see the butterfly migration in Mexico, it would be an amazing opportunity to bring videos back to show her students. She often shows them videos of the butterflies she raises and releases in her home garden.
From the accounts and videos she has researched so far, it seems like a magical experience; witnesses can hear what sounds like wind but is actually millions of butterfly wings flapping.
“I’m very much a tree-hugging nature lover, and when I can show them this and they get excited about it, too, that’s what it’s for,” Dockery said. “That’s why we became teachers. That’s why we built this program, to get them excited about it and for them to have that compassion for our earth.”