San Antonio area second graders will have the opportunity for a hands-on learning experience this fall when the Monarch Butterfly & Pollinator Festival makes dozens of “caterpillar condos” available to local elementary schools.

Ashley Bird

Ashley Bird, “Birdie” of the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival and Blooming with Birdie

The FREE Caterpillar Condos in Classrooms program, a partnership of the Texas Butterfly Ranch and Blooming with Birdie, launched last year during the COVID edition of the Festival. Thanks to underwriting from Valero and with support from the San Antonio River Foundation, the pilot program expands this year.

On September 11, 60 second grade teachers of Title-1 classrooms in San Antonio will have the opportunity to partake in a monarch teacher training session. Following the instruction, they’ll be awarded a Caterpillar Condo to be used in their classrooms–a pop-up cage, milkweed plant, monarch caterpillar, and tag for citizen science activity.

The following week, their classes can enjoy guided lessons led by Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival manager Ashley Bird, also known as “Birdie” of Blooming with Birdie.

A certified Montessori school teacher, Bird has developed virtual curriculum–four hands-on, TEKS aligned 15-minute video lessons on What is a Monarch? What is Metamorphosis? What is the Monarch Migration? And, What is Community Science? Check out the teaser below.

“The goal was to take a load off overwhelmed teachers coping with new models of hybrid and online learning during COVID last year,” said Bird, explaining the mission of the program.




The program requires only an hour per week from teachers, as Birdie does the most of the heavy lifting, leaving teachers to handle the “the fun, hands-on stuff”–including guiding the kids through the stages of the monarch butterfly life cycle.

We’re launching Caterpillar Condos in Classrooms a few weeks earlier than last year so that the butterflies hatch in time for peak monarch migration season in San Antonio, which is October 10 – 22.  The hope is that they’ll join their butterfly brethren in the migration south to Mexico. NOTE: We tag and release hundreds of monarch butterflies at our Festival each fall as part of a community science project organized by Monarch Watch.

kid cat condo

A student observes a monarch caterpillar getting ready to form it’s chrysalis inside its caterpillar condo at  San Antonio’s Advanced Learning Academy last year. Photo courtesy Jeremiah Birmingham

The month-long program provides a hands-on classroom connection to nature, as the children record their observations in a digital monarch journal with real-world curriculum applications. Teachers also have the opportunity to enter a contest for their class to win a trip to the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival on Saturday, October 16 at Confluence Park. 

“This is the future of education,” said Cheri Tondre, a gifted and talented education instructional specialist for the San Antonio Independent School District. Tondre helped distribute the condos last year and is participating again in 2021. “What makes it great is that it’s real world, it’s relevant, it gets kids outdoors, engaged in their community and the world around them.”

Tondre described a growing trend in education personified by the Caterpillar Condos program–flipped learning, an education approach in which teachers provide video or other content for students to consume and absorb on their own time, with discussion and interaction coming  afterward.

“Students get content on their own, then the application, analysis and evaluation with the teacher takes place afterward,” said Tondre. “That’s where the learning occurs.”

Baby boomers may recall a similar approach from the 60s–“film strips,” whereby kids watched spooled rolls of 35 mm positive film, and then discussed the content after viewing it with their teachers.

“Watching a living caterpillar grow and transform is so much more powerful than looking at charts and coloring pictures,” said Jeremiah Birmingham, a teacher at San Antonio’s Advanced Learning Academy.

Birmingham taught the caterpillar condo program last year to 132 students.”The Condo program opens the door for our students to actively participate in the scientific process of citizen science,” he said.

The deadline for teachers to apply is August 13. Application here.

What is the commitment for participating teachers? 

  • Fill out the application by August 13. Those accepted will be notified by August 23.
  • Attend the Caterpillar Condo Teacher Training at the Confluence Park Education Center on Saturday, September 11 from 9-12. That’s when teachers will learn how to implement the program, tag a butterfly, and receive their caterpillar condo. All participating teachers will receive a certification of completion.
  • Complete a teacher post- survey and ensure that all participating students fill out the pre-test and post-test. 
  • Care for the living plant and caterpillar. (Don’t worry, Birdie will show you how!)

TOP PHOTO: A student measures a caterpillar during last year’s Caterpillar Condo project. Photo courtesy Celeste Romero

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