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Chatham High Student Spends Summer in Nature

President of Chatham High's Environmental Club turns attention to a butterfly reserve in Chatham Township.

Summer may be a time for some students to slow down and take a break, but rising senior Sophie Kapica isn't one of them.

"This summer I just wanted to do something else," Kapica said, "and I'm really interested in the environment."

Kapica, the president of 's Environmental Club, worked with the Chatham Township Environmental Commission and other club members to help care for a native monarch butterfly wildlife habitat near the  parking lot.

Kapica and others recently spent an afternoon weeding the habitat of invasive plant species and caring for milkweed plants, which monarchs use to feed on and to lay their eggs on. "Milkweed is a plant that monarchs, specifically monarchs, really need," Kapica said.

The reserve area was first planted with milkweed in 2005 by the SBS Environmental Awareness Committee.

"The habitat has been kind of forgotten," Kapica said. "It's been kind of left on it's own for a few years, and there's a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of this mugwort, which is a very invasive weed. It's not a weed that's easy to pull out; it has deep roots, and you really need a shovel to take it out."

Along with about five other club members and members of the Environmental Commission, Kapica spent the afternoon of Sunday, July 1 taking out as much mugwort from the habitat as possible and planting native species, "which the butterflies can feed off of and get the nectar from," Kapica said.

The plants were donated from the gardens of Debra Bucuk and Chatham Township Committee Member Kathy Abbott. Abbott also helped weed the reserve, along with Kapica's mother and the members of the Chatham High Environmental Club

There is still more work to be done, and Kapica said she plans to organize another day of weeding and planting.

"We also want to make it a learning area for the kids at SBS, so to do that we're going to make the entrance nicer [and] mulch it," Kapica said. She also plans to get the habitat certified as a Monarch Waystation through Monarch Watch. "Once you get it certified as a site, you get a sign that we can put at the entrance, and that raises more awareness," she said.

Kapica said she is also developing lesson plans that SBS teachers can use to help students learn about monarch butterflies.

Abbott, who serves as the committee's liaison to the Environmental Commission, said monarch reserves are a priority and have much to offer local students. The butterflies, she said, "live about three weeks, but the last ones in September migrate all the way to Mexico. ... The children have lots to learn in that little place."

Kapica's efforts at the butterfly reserve come on the heels of receiving her . As part of her project, she spoke with a representative of Dyson, Ltd. and convinced them to donate eight hand dryers to Chatham High School.

Each hand dryer costs over $300 and costs nearly as much to install. At first, Kapica said she expected to have to fundraise to purchase and install the dryers.

When Dyson agreed to donate the dryers, however, Peter Daquila, the scool district's business administrator, said "(District Building & Grounds Supervisor) John Cataldo and I got involved, [and] we realized that if Sophie could work hard enough to get them donated, the district could find the funds to get them installed."

The recognized Kapica at their May 15 meeting.

Andreana Field July 24, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Kudos to Kapica for undertaking the Monarch Way Station and writing up the necessary requirements for a sign to be posted. Monarch butterflies have been coming to the area for years now that the milkweed has been established. The Native Wildlife Habitat has really not been intentionally neglected...in fact, there have been countless hours spent by the gardening committee and before that the Environmental Committee thru the SBS PTO. It is difficult enough to get any volunteers to come out and help, especially during the school year. Many parents of girl scouts don't even know that the area exists. To say that it has been "forgotten" for some minimizes our efforts while at the same time alienate those that have worked so hard to keep the native area going. After all, it is a native area and is not meant to be a botanical garden.
chatham7 July 24, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Congratulations Sophie and thanks for taking on such a proect during your summer break! You and your family should be very proud of what you are doing!!
Kathy Abbott July 28, 2012 at 01:04 PM
I want to clarify that it was a passing comment I made that caused confusion. The habitat at SBS has been tended since 2005 by PTO parents and mugwort and other invasive plant species are a huge problem. When we saw it in late June, it was worse than at other times and I said that when asked. But I meant no offense to last year's PTO Committee. PTO volunteers can't possibly weed it all out. Sophie's group is making a small dent in the weeding and is working to make the habitat usable for Monarch Butterfly study in September, when the Monarch's are active and before they leave for Mexico. That is really terrific! It is also terrific that National Honor Society volunteers are helping her. The new PTO Gardening Committee for SBS for next school year, which now includes me, hopes to recruit more teenage crews from National Honor Society and Key Club to help with this labor intensive job.
Melissa Cavallone July 28, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Thanks, Kathy, for the clarification.

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