Photo Vault: Push for a state amphibian became life lesson for kids

What started out as a good-government exercise, a chance to teach the kids how a bill becomes a law, turned into a three-year odyssey for an elementary school class who thought it was a great idea for Georgia to have a state amphibian.

In fall 2002 the class, jointly taught by Ruth Pinson and Marilyn McLean at Armuchee Middle School near Rome, realized while studying government and science that Georgia did not have an official amphibian.

The students reasoned that if the state can have an official bird (brown thrasher), butterfly (tiger swallowtail), reptile (gopher tortoise) and prepared food (grits), why not a state amphibian?

The class drew up the bill and had it carried to the Legislature in the winter of 2003, first by Democratic Sen. Richard Marable and Democratic Rep. Barbara Reece and later by Republican Sen. Preston Smith and Reece. But the class was disappointed. What seemed to be a harmless piece of legislation kept getting bogged down, seemingly forgotten.

It turns out that the section of Georgia law that addresses high honors for frogs governs the entire pantheon of state symbols: birds, trees, rocks, mammals, insects, wildflowers – and the state flag. There was concern that unleashing the tree-frog legislation would stir up the fight to bring back the 1956 state flag, the one that featured a Confederate battle flag.

Through thousands of phone calls and e-mails, disappointments and some grinding of teeth, the kids never gave up. If anything, they became more determined.

“I know one thing: We’ve created a couple of future lobbyists, ” said Pinson at the time. “When we took the class to see the Legislature in action, some of the kids went around introducing themselves and shaking hands and asking the members of the Legislature to vote for the bill.”

The kids argued that they had chosen their nominee for a reason: “The green tree frog has porous skin and can’t live in a heavily polluted environment,” one student told the AJC. “We hoped this would draw people’s attention to pollution.”

The class even named the green tree frog Bill. (Get it? Green Tree Frog Bill).

And finally on May 9, 2005, the green tree frog finally had a place among Georgia’s state symbols. By then the kids were in the sixth grade and learned a lot more than the teachers thought they would about how state government works.

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