Graduate’s Butterfly Project Takes Wing

Graduate’s Butterfly Project Takes Wing

Commencement is a time of reflection and new beginnings. As the College prepares to send the Class of 2018 across the Cistern Yard May 11-12, The College Today will share a sampling of how some of our graduating seniors spent their time at CofC, and what comes next.


Like the life cycle of a butterfly, a child’s education unfolds in stages of growth. With nurturing and the passage of time both take wing, realizing their potential in a brilliant awakening of self-awareness and exploration.

It’s an apt comparison given the focus of a recent project headed by College of Charleston early childhood education major and soon-to-be graduate Allison Dargis, who developed a curriculum to teach school children lessons in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) through the study of butterflies.

Professor Tracey Hunter-Doniger with teacher education majors at Howe Hall.

Professor Tracey Hunter-Doniger (far right) with teacher education majors at Howe Hall.

Along with a group of fellow education majors from the College, and with guidance from Associate Professor of Teacher Education Tracey Hunter-Doniger, Dargis organized a mural-painting project involving 122 kindergartners and first-graders from Howe Hall Arts Infused Magnet School in Goose Creek, South Carolina.

Through hands-on lessons developed by Dargis, the school children learned about the life cycle of a butterfly and the body parts of an insect. Then the students designed and painted a beautiful mural that will be installed at the Cypress Gardens Butterfly Garden.

Cypress Gardens, a publicly supported nature preserve and popular family attraction in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, sustained significant damage during the state’s historic flooding in October 2015 and was forced to close for repairs. The butterfly mural is expected to be unveiled as part of the site’s reopening this summer.

“Cypress Gardens wanted a mural painted by children for their renovated butterfly garden and the collaboration was a natural fit,” says Hunter-Doniger. “We knew instantly that this would be an ideal experience for pre-service teachers to create STEAM lessons and teach them to make the painting of the mural a learning experience rather than just a one-day event.”

Allison Dargis (Photos by Mike Ledford)

Dargis, who hails from Greer, South Carolina, was responsible for developing the lessons and activities that her fellow education majors used to teach the children. She monitored the class instruction to ensure it met the project’s standards, and she collaborated with teachers at Howe Hall to keep the project focused on its educational goals.

She says the experience helped prepare her for the teaching career she intends to pursue after graduation.

“I have learned how to collaborate with other teachers and pre-service teachers to create and teach lessons that not only educate our students about butterflies, but infuse the arts and create a fun and unique learning environment,” says Dargis.

The collaborative nature of the project and the fact that it involved multiple entities made it “a win, win, win scenario,” says Hunter-Doniger.

Other project participants included CofC education majors Jordan Mosher, Moira Devlin, Deidra Johnson, Lindsey Guerry, Sarah Jarrett and Kayla Weber; Howe Hall Principal and CofC alum Chris Swetckie ’98; and Howe Hall kindergarten and first-grade teachers.

“Allison was given the opportunity to be a leader and design art-infused lesson plans, and all of the participating pre-service teachers got to see a creative unit from start to finish and how it was successful,” says Hunter-Doniger. “I am very pleased with the results of the Butterfly Project.”


Other notable spring graduates from the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance include:

  • Madison Fox ‘15, a graduate student in special education and teaching, has published three papers in peer-reviewed academic journals. Her most recent paper – a collaboration with teacher education faculty members W. Ian O’Byrne, Nenad Radokovic and Tracey Hunter-Doniger as well as two undergraduate students – was published in the International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology.
  • Bailie Sparks, an exercise science major and a teacher assistant at the College’s N.E. Miles Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC), has been involved with numerous organizations on campus, including Alpha Delta Pi sorority. She hopes to attend graduate school and pursue a career as an occupational therapist.