Archive for Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Angling for a law

Tonganoxie third-graders promote bluegill as state’s official fish

March 8, 2006

Students in a Tonganoxie third-grade class are angling for a state fish.

That's because there isn't one.

Karen Stockman's class at Tonganoxie Elementary School dove into their Kansas studies this year. Their work included compiling their written reports and illustrations into a book, which will be published later this year.

"Then we had a second-grader who knew that we were a pretty informed group ask us what the state fish is," Stockman said.

So her students researched that as well, soon learning that four states, including Kansas, have no designated state fish.

One thing led to another, and Stockman's students decided to take the fish by the gills and do something about it.

"The amphibian, reptile and insect were chosen by elementary students in Kansas," Stockman said. "We had already learned that. And we decided -- if they did it, we can do it, too. So we decided to recommend a state fish."

But it had to be done right.

"We voted democratically on what we would like to have for our state fish," Stockman said.

It was a close call between the flathead channel cat and the bluegill, with the walleye snagging a few votes. But the bluegill floated to the top.

"It was basically because most students were familiar with it," Stockman said. "They had caught bluegill before."

And, she said, they liked the bluegill's other name -- sunperch -- which Stockman said reminded the students of the Kansas sunflower.

Starting their campaign

The class drafted a letter to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who responded in writing.

"She said she enjoyed our letter, but that that would require a change in state law and that we should contact our legislators," Stockman said.

So the class, with help from their teacher, tweaked the original letter and sent it to state Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, and Sen. Roger Pine, D-Lawrence.

And they soon had a reply from Wilk, who agreed to visit the class last week and talk to the students about drafting a bill to name the bluegill the state fish.

"It's really exciting," Stockman said. "The kids are real excited. They were asking if the president was going to come."

Official visit

The day Wilk visited the class was punctuated by a class party. Josh Hunter's mother sent a cake and chocolate bluegill candies for everyone to enjoy.

Wilk talked to the students about how laws are made.

"Any one of you, any citizens, can come before the Legislature and request a bill introduction," Wilk said.

He told the students that the bill won't be voted on until 2007, and he advised them to get their ducks, or rather their fish, in a row.

"If you do this right, it will be covered in all the newspapers in the state of Kansas and probably be picked up nationally, as well," Wilk said. "I will help, but you'll have to take the lead."

That means, Wilk advised, contacting every school district in Kansas to ask for support.

"It would be a lot of work, and I think this would be a lot of fun if you want to do it," said Wilk.

So the students can have their names attached to the bill, Wilk promised he would introduce the bill on their behalf.

He cautioned the students that out of about 1,000 bills introduced each year in Kansas, only about 200 to 250 are passed.

"That means that only about one-fourth of all bills in the state go ahead and become law," Wilk said.

Stockman said the project is about more than proposing a state fish.

"I want my students to be excited about learning and for it to be authentic," Stockman said. "Every year I tell my class that someone in our room might become our future president. I want them to believe in that real possibility.

"I also then tell them that when they become president, I expect a visit to the White House. We'll see what happens."

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