Austin elementary teacher shares passion for butterflies with students


Joel Enge collects monarch butterflies to put on him for a portrait at Kingdom Life Academy’s garden in Tyler, Texas. Enge has been raising butterflies as a hobby for 16 years and typically does a butterfly release each year with either his students or his church. (Chelsea Purgahn/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Orlaith McCaffrey

Tyler Morning Telegraph

TYLER — “Look! Do you see it?” Joel Enge exclaims mid-conversation. He points to the sky as he stands in Kingdom Life Academy’s budding garden, excitedly talking about the beauty of the monarch butterfly overhead. He’s been raising butterflies for 16 years.

“I started raising butterflies to give my elementary students an exciting experience with real life science, not just out of a textbook,” Enge recalls of his first year raising painted lady butterflies in 2002 with his Austin Elementary School students.

The students loved the project, so Enge continued ordering and raising painted ladies from California with them until he found out about monarch butterflies and ordered the caterpillars from a local place in Texas.

By the time he had decided to raise the monarchs in 2008, it had become a campus-wide event, with each class at the school receiving 10 caterpillars so they could watch the metamorphosis process.

Enge now searches for his own caterpillars and milkweed, and shares the butterflies with his congregation at Colonial Hills Baptist Church.

It was a tough season for the butterflies, Enge said. Ants and storms took almost 50 caterpillars and butterflies before Monther’s Day, when he wanted to release them. In the end, he was still able to bring nearly 50 butterflies to his church to release. After a tour through the Sunday school classes so kids could experience the butterflies, Enge and dozens of church members made their way to the front lawn after the service to release the butterflies into the sunny blue sky.

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