DAVIE (CBSMiami) — A Davie high school student’s butterfly garden, which began as a science project, is taking on a life of its own, and is now being incorporated into school-wide K-12 curriculum at NSU University School.
While the project is student driven, Duncan Jurmun has had a mentor challenging him and helping him grow all along the way.
As a young child, Jurmun says he was captivated by the metamorphosis and camouflage of butterflies.
“Even in the lower school, I loved talking about butterflies,” explained Jurmun, a sophomore. “My passion for butterflies happened almost before I had that good of a memory, probably when I was like four or five.”
Jurmun has found a kindred spirit in chemistry teacher Chana Goodman, his mentor and fellow butterfly enthusiast. The school’s principal connected them, urging them to collaborate.
“We complement each other’s knowledge,” said Goodman. “I might know more about native plants; he knows more about what butterflies actually like, so we just put it all together and we teach each other.”
They started with one plot when Jurmun was a freshman, sketching out different boxes, and choosing plants specific to the types of butterflies they wanted in the garden.
“The sweet almond bush, that’s one of the Atala’s favorites,” said Jurmun. “The Atala butterfly is an imperiled butterfly, it was on the brink of endangerment. It was actually thought to be extinct, until one of its colonies was found.”
They also made special habitats for the Monarch, Zebra Longwing and other types of butterflies. Now, there are about 40 butterflies in the garden at any given time and the pair has released an estimated 400 butterflies so far.
Goodman and her protégé have started an initiative called Bring Butterflies Back, One Butterfly at a Time. They are now focusing on outreach to other schools and the community, spreading awareness about the declining butterfly population and the importance of butterflies for the ecosystem.
“Seeing it, and not just being told and reading it from a textbook, gives you a whole different facet of learning,” said Jurmun. “If I go in the garden and I see this caterpillar looks really similar to this caterpillar, I can start making connections in my brain about taxonomy, which is what the sixth-graders are learning about.”
Jurmun and Goodman even won the Broward County Government NatureScape Emerald Award for excellence and best environmental practices for their garden.
Jurmun is taking on a leadership role, managing the project and other volunteers, interviewing people, pitching projects and forging relationships, and plans to start an environmental group.
“He is going to be a professional,” said Goodman. “What he’s doing now is an adult’s job. This is what an adult can do. Most adults couldn’t do this, but this is what an adult could do. He’s 15, and he did this when he was 14.”
Jurmun says he looks to Ms. Goodman, not only for guidance, but as someone to emulate. He says without her, none of it would be possible.
“She showed me how you can balance both your work and butterflies,” he said. “She is a chemistry teacher by day, but after school, she really loves to go to the garden, water the plants and take care of the butterflies.”
And Jurman wants to be, what else, someone who studies butterflies professionally.
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