Kids Make a Law!
Students from Washington State put democracy into action as they help make marmots an official state symbol
This map shows the Olympic marmot's habitat, or home. (Jim McMahon)
A group of fourth-graders at Wedgwood Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, recently got their first taste of politics. These students helped make a law that turned the Olympic marmot into an official symbol of their state.
Each of America's 50 states has a set of official symbols, like birds, flowers, and slogans. One of these symbols may be an endemic animal, a type that lives in only one area. The Olympic marmot is named after its homeland, Washington's Olympic National Park. This park is the only place these rare marmots live in the wild.
As a class project, students had to argue to lawmakers why the marmots should be recognized as a state symbol. Students e-mailed their opinions to lawmakers and later testified, or spoke, before lawmakers in the state capital of Olympia. They even appeared with Washington Governor Christine Gregoire when she signed the bill that turned their furry friends into an official symbol.
Law of the Land
In each state, a law must be passed to approve the naming of an official symbol. Wedgwood students would not have been able to name the marmot their state's official endemic animal without help from the Constitution, which provided a model for state governments to pass laws. On Thursday, Americans will celebrate Constitution Day, when this important document was signed on September 17, 1787.
The Constitution spells out the U.S. system of government. It divides the government into three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative. The President is the head of the executive branch. The Supreme Court is the most powerful court of the judicial branch. Congress is the legislative, or lawmaking branch. It contains two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The Constitution sets rules for making laws in Congress. A bill, or plan for a law, must first pass both the House and the Senateby a majority vote. The President has the option of signing a bill or vetoing (saying no to) it. If a bill is vetoed, it can still become the law of the land if Congress overrides the veto.
State laws come about in a similar way. As in Congress, the state of Washington has two groups of elected lawmakers to help create laws: the Senate and the Assembly. The Governor, who is the state's elected leader, signs a bill into law only after both houses of the Washington Legislature vote to pass the bill.
With help from teachers, Wedgwood students asked State Senator Ken Jacobsen to write a bill to make the Olympic marmot their new state symbol. "I commend these fourth-graders for taking the time to learn about this state mammal and learn about the process of proposing a bill," Jacobsen said.
State Law, State Pride
Students felt confident that the bill would pass the Legislature, but some lawmakers wanted first to focus on issues other than state symbols. "Maybe they just don't like the Olympic marmot," said 10-year-old Garrett Lawrence to The Seattle Times. Garrett is one of 50 students from Wedgwood Elementary School who helped persuade lawmakers to pass the bill.
Many people in the state were excited when Governor Gregoire finally signed the bill into law-especially the students who helped make it happen. "The whole school was abuzz," said Kelly Clark, a teacher at Wedgwood Elementary School.
"It's not every day kids make a bill and get this experience," student Caroline Malone told The Seattle Times.
To celebrate the school's success, Washington's Secretary of State Sam Reed threw a party for all the students involved. All the kids wore marmot masks, and some even wore marmot costumes! But they were celebrating more than just the marmot. They were also joyful over the freedom kids have in the United States to participate in government.
WHAT'S THE WORD?
Use words from today's story to complete this crossword puzzle about Washington's furry state symbol.
Do you know your rights? Learn about them here! Celebrate Constitution Day with games, articles, and activities. Read interviews with Supreme Court Justices, travel through time with Ben Franklin, and check out the full text of the Bill of Rights.
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