Riverdale Elementary teacher has a hand at releasing hundreds of monarch butterflies every year

PORT BYRON, Illinois-- It's that time of year where you've stopped seeing monarch butterflies in the Quad Cities. That's because they're starting their journey South for the winter. And a teacher at Riverdale Elementary School in Port Byron had a hand at sending hundreds of the orange and black beauties on their way.

When it's warm and the rough is lush and you spot Tami Claus, she's probably searching for one particular plant; milkweed.

The plant is in good hands because to Tami, a milkweed is the first step towards a new beginning, a new monarch butterfly.

Tami's not the only one searching for that sign. She's taught her mom, Jan.

"My daughter, Tami, would ask me to babysit her monarchs while she was on vacation," says Jan.

And you don't have to search far to find that passion spreading again. Now, milkweed in hand, Jan's great-granddaughter, Jada, is hooked on the hunt.

Tami's passion spreads again to her fellow kindergarten teachers at Riverdale Elementary. The growing group of gatherers collect dozens of eggs every year just in time to spread that love once again. This time, it spreads to the newest crop of much tinier hands, their students.

Over the past 20 years, the monarch population has been dwindling. Back in 2014, the butterfly was considered for the endangered species list.

"We noticed that drop up here. It was kind of scary. We couldn't find any eggs up here," remembers Tami.

But people like Tami are working to change that.

"By putting more monarchs out there in the world you have to be helping them," says Tami.

Over time, the creatures grow right in front of the eyes of the students. The lessons grow too.

"It usually eats a lot and the more bigger it gets, the more bigger the frass gets. Frass means caterpillar poop," says kindergarten student Sampson Riewerts.

There are hundreds of helping hands making monarch miracles. And after about 30 days of discovery, it's time to make some memories before the 2,000 mile journey South.

"Mine's a boy. His name is Buckaroo, and he's going to Mexico," says kindergarten student Emmett Daum.

Now it's out of their hands. It's up to the orange and black beauties.

"If he doesn't make it to Mexico and he falls on the ground, I would really hope he would get back up," says Daum.

The goodbye is just the beginning, though. Because when your passion is this strong, chances are it will keep flourishing far, far into the future.

"Hopefully it's off to continue the life cycle," says Tami.

For the first time this year, each butterfly released from Riverdale was given a number and a tag. It's part of a tracking program called The Monarch Watch. In a few months, students will be able to look online and see if their butterflies made it to Mexico.

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