http://www.njherald.com:80/secure_story ... 025980.php
Hardyston teacher visits Mexico
Friday, April 4, 2008
By ROBERTA FUGATE
FRANKLIN — Hardyston elementary teacher Mary Rowan describes her February trip to Mexico as a life-changing experience.
"It was not a trip, it was a journey," said Rowan, as she sat in her classroom with her friend Jane Leach, a former Hardyston teacher who accompanied Rowan on the trip.
Rowan and Leach were part of a group of teachers from across the United States and Canada that went to Mexico as part of the Monarch Teacher Network to observe wintering Monarch butterflies.
"She pulled me out of retirement in North Carolina for this," said Leach, who taught in Hardyston for 25 years.
Following their trips, teachers use Monarchs as a tool for teaching science, language arts, social studies, math, Spanish, technology and a growing connection among the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Since the program began, more than 1,600 teachers from 10 states and four Canadian provinces have been trained and are part of the growing Monarch Teacher Network.
Rowan said her observations from the trip helped her have the "best start to a school year ever in the 20 years I've been teaching.
"It was absolutely uplifting."
While she was gone, Rowan mapped out her itinerary on a big board so that her second-grade students would know her location each day of her trip.
The Monarch colonies are located in the Transvolcanic Mountain range in the Mexican state of Michoacan, several hours west of Mexico City. The one-week trips are conducted in late winter and are led by an experienced teacher and a Mexican guide.
Described by Rowan and Leach as a man who is knowledgeable and passionate about his country, tour guide Marcos Garcia gave the group lessons about the culture and history of Mexico and the Monarchs.
Grants from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and CMX Engineering Community Foundation and a Hardyston PTA Teacher grant funded most of the trip.
The trip had special meeting for Rowan, whose grandparents were born and raised in Mexico.
"The monarchs brought me there but there were more connections," she said.
Leach had her own reasons for taking the trip. As a substitute teacher, she said, she has noticed an increase of Hispanic students in the school systems.
"I kept asking myself, "Why are so many Hispanic families flocking to the country?' I found the answers for myself," Leach said. "Because it's a struggle there. They are coming here for opportunity and hope.
"The trip was amazing for me. I noticed how tight the family bond is for Hispanic students," she said.
As they toured old mines and villages, Rowan and Leach said, they saw signs with Monarch butterflies on them everywhere. Monarchs grace the currency, and paper versions of the butterflies are sold in many of the shops, they said.
To earn money, locals make souvenirs to sell at the sanctuaries.
Twelve thousand feet above sea level at the El Rosario Sanctuary, the butterflies were everywhere.
"It takes your breath away. It's something spiritual to see thousands of Monarchs," Rowan said.
Completely covered with butterflies, "It's like the trees were alive," said Leach.
Rowan said one of the most outstanding parts of the trip was a visit to an elementary school.
"They have absolutely nothing, but the students were so generous," said Leach.
The women said what they were asked most about education in the United States was why there are so many shootings at the universities.
It was interesting to share stories with other teachers, the women said.
One of the most touching things that Leach witnessed was when they were walking back to the bus down a cobblestone road when the principal of the school, with tears in her eyes, took a ring off of her hand, gave it to someone in their group and said, "To my new American friend."
"That's the way the people were —they were so passionate about their country, families and the land. You couldn't help but take it away with you," Rowan said.
Rowan said her grandmother had told her stories about the Shrine of Our Lady in Guadalupe. "The minute I stepped into the place I was overcome with emotion. I can't explain it, it was beautiful," she said.
Rowan said it was a true bonding experience with other teachers.
On the last day of the trip, Rowan said, she asked Garcia, "What do we do with all of this?"
His response: "You take it with you."
"What more can you say?" said Rowan.