Bright sparks on tur­tle madness

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

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

Post

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

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