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It’s an annual West40 tradition that transforms and flies away to the delight of students across West Cook County.

Each year, West40 distributes Painted Lady Butterfly kits to interested teachers and community members who provide a temporary home for caterpillars as they slowly turn into beautiful butterflies.

More than 750 kits were ordered and will be distributed this month. The entire process is a learning experience for children as they witness the butterfly life cycle.

West40 administrative assistant Mirtha Medina has kept the Painted Lady Butterfly project alive for more than twenty years.

“We saw year after year that we could get orders every time we did it and people loved it,” Medina said. “It’s a tradition we keep and I think it brings a lot of smiles to the kids.”

Each kit includes a small container of caterpillars and their food. Once the caterpillars eat all of the food, they climb to the top of the container. Eventually, they can be placed into a mesh butterfly house.

It typically takes three weeks for the butterflies to emerge. The weather needs to be above 56 degrees before the butterflies can be released outdoors.

PAEC Elementary in Maywood has participated in the Painted Butterfly program for several years.

“The students participate in writing, drawing, and hands-on activities during the process,” said principal Roshune Pechacek. “The completion of the project is the release of the butterflies and it is an all-school experience. The students are always excited to see the butterflies being released.”

What began in 1989 as a science project for interested West40 partner districts has continued to blossom into a much-anticipated experience for area children.

“It’s one of the few things that we do that can potentially impact every school in the West40 area, not just a single district,” said West40 Executive Director Dr. Mark Klaisner. “It celebrates Spring. It’s the idea of how we help kids go from one step to the next.”

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