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VA Press: Hampton students lobby for state amphibian - fifth-graders get interested in voting.

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Mon Jan 23 16:41:58 2006  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  

DAILY PRESS (Hampton Roads, Virgina) 19 January 06 Hampton students lobby for state amphibian - A local delegate is ready for ridicule over the bill but says it helped the fifth-graders get interested in voting. (Georgina Stark And John M.R. Bull)
Hampton: Arizona has a tree frog; New Hampshire, a newt; New Mexico, a toad; and Virginia may soon have its very own salamander.
Students at Cooper Elementary Magnet School in Hampton were so adamant that Virginia have a state amphibian, that their efforts to get one named has become one of the wackier House of Delegates bills introduced this session.
The bill, submitted by Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, would make the Shenandoah Mountain salamander the critter of choice.
If the bill is approved, it will put the salamander on par with 11 other state symbols, including a state dog (American fox hound,) a state shell (oyster) and a state dance (square dance).
Ward said she was reluctant to introduce the bill, seeing the potential for ridicule aimed her way, but then saw how serious the students were about it.
"When they told me they wanted me to carry the legislation, I said 'Oh my goodness,' " she said, "but they'd done much for it."
Last year, eight fifth-graders in Cooper's 4-H Club got the idea to name a state amphibian after learning about how a bill becomes law.
Ward warned them that it has to survive a series of votes, first from the members of the House's General Laws Committee, but the students were undeterred.
The salamander, scientifically known as Plethodon virginia, was chosen democratically in the spring with students and teachers casting votes.
"This was a full-blown election," Ward said.
The other contender, the Jefferson salamander, lost by one vote proving to the students, Ward said, that every vote counts. Even kindergartners voted, scanning photos because most of them couldn't read yet.
However, the 4-H Club members chose the two finalists because of their names, said Jordan Mueller, an 11-year-old 4-H Club member.
The club chose the Shenandoah Mountain salamander because they liked its scientific name, and they chose the Jefferson salamander as the other finalist because they figured Virginians would like the Jefferson name.
With its long, skinny body and mottled skin, the winner, the Shenandoah Mountain salamander, looks like a snake with legs, but the students were unwilling to consider a snake as a state symbol.
"They didn't want anything controversial," Ward said, laughing because the bill might become controversial anyway.
Lawmakers often are reluctant to create more symbols because they have been criticized for wasting time on them when important issues are on the table.
After then-Del. Jackie Stump, D-Buchanan, got the Virginia big-eared bat added to the list last year, he took some grilling from delegates and senators who dubbed him "Batman."
Ward said she has already earned the nickname the "Lizard Lady," though students at Cooper were quick to tell her that lizards are reptiles, not amphibians.
The salamander lives along the Virginia-West Virginia border on Shenandoah Mountain, said Henry Wilbur, a University of Virginia biology professor who admits the Plethodon virginia wouldn't be his first choice for the state amphibian.
"It's a bit of an obscure choice," he said, because it's not a well-known amphibian. "It has a pleasing name, but I don't know how well-recognized it is."
Wilbur would favor the Peaks of Otter salamander or the Shenandoah salamander because they are unique to the state.
The students have already begun lobbying General Rules Committee members with letters and hope to help present the bill in Richmond when it comes up for review.
The bill has a chance of passing the House of Delegates, but it is by no means a sure bet, said Del. Jack Reid, R-Henrico, chairman of the General Laws Committee.
"Sometimes these bills generate more controversy than you'd expect," he said, especially if there is a question whether the critter truly is indigenous to Virginia and if ridicule is heaped on lawmakers.
Ward said she has no regrets.
"I agreed to take the hit if I have to," Ward said, "because I'm sure one of the students will become a legislator or City Council member."
Eleven-year-old Yancy Nesbitt, who helped on the project, said she would be disappointed if the bill doesn't pass, but if it doesn't, "We always have next year."
Hampton students lobby for state amphibian


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