Bright sparks on turtle madness
ELEMENTARY school students in Princeton, New Jersey, developed “turtle madness” almost two years ago after learning that other states had official reptiles. They decided that New Jersey needed one, and did considerable research on the state’s native reptiles. After a vote, they proposed that the bog turtle be given the honour.
“It’s the smallest turtle in North America, the most endangered and just adorable,” said science teacher Mark Eastburn. Eastburn’s students at Riverside Elementary School collaborated on the project with students at Community Park Elementary and their librarian, Bevan Jones.
“It started out as just a little science project to save a few turtles, but it turned out to be a lot greater when politics got involved,” said Marc-Andre Morel, 11, who attended Riverside. The students had to convince the state legislature that
New Jersey needed a state reptile and should choose its candidate.
Former classmate Connor Hewitt, then 11, studied how to get a bill through the legislature, or “the stages and how it gets voted in or out.”
They found lawmakers to sponsor bills in the state Senate and General Assembly. But the kids also had to persuade other lawmakers to support their cause. The committees pushed the bill forward, and both houses voted in favour of the tiny reptile.
“Thanks to a dedicated group of elementary school students, teachers and lawmakers, we can help shine a light on blog turtles – once a thriving species in New Jersey, now on the verge of extinction,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy tweeted after signing the bill into law a few weeks later.
In 1983, thousands of Montana students, after reviewing 74 animals native to that state, voted to make the grizzly bear the state animal. In 2013, New York fourth-graders made a video in support of yoghurt as the state snack.
In 2016, Aiden Coleman, 11, of Williamsburg, proposed making the eastern garter snake Virginia’s state reptile.
And in 2014, when fourth-grader Peter Herrick realised the nation’s capital didn’t have an official rock, he organised the “D.C. Rocks, So We Need One,” project to select Potomac bluestone, a rock used in the foundations of the White House, Capitol, Washington Monument and other city buildings.
These efforts were all successful because in each case, students researched why their proposed symbol was important to their state, wrote proposals defending their choice, gathered support and made presentations to their state representatives. And they were patient, because getting a bill through the legislative process can take a year or longer. In 2008, Maryland was the first to designate a state exercise: walking. In 2014, students in St Joseph, Missouri, successfully lobbied for jumping jacks to be that state’s official exercise.
Different states may share a common symbol because it’s important to each. – Washington
The tiny bog turtle was approved this year by New Jersey lawmakers to be the state reptile. PICTURE: JUSTIN DALABA/US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE