Will the Governor come calling?
Will Toto win?
The civics lesson playing out in Mrs. Gentz’ class at Liberty View Elementary in Olathe has kept first-graders on their toes this week.
Eager to test their newfound persuasive writing skills, the Blue Valley students jumped into a full-fledged letter writing campaign to designate the Cairn terrier the official dog of Kansas. The dog breed and Kansas are forever linked thanks to the “The Wizard of Oz.”
Students are clamoring for an answer. Room mom Laura Mack said their energy builds every time the classroom phone rings.
“Answer it, Mrs. Gentz! It’s going to be the state. It might be the capitol!”
Some laughed when Kansas Representative Ed Trimmer, a retired teacher, introduced the bill recently.
But the first-grade students saw their opportunity.
“They are pumped,” said classroom teacher Molly Gentz.
The class was in the middle of Kansas Day celebrations when Gentz explained that the state salamander became a symbol thanks in part to Kansas schoolchildren.
Light bulbs went off.
“That motivated them. They came up with all kinds of crazy ideas,” she said.
Gentz nixed several ideas, including a plan they hatched to make Liberty View the official state school.
The class settled on a campaign to designate the state fish, but soon learned it had been spoken for. A day later, Trimmer introduced the dog bill.
Students began a letter writing campaign and have logged nearly 100 letters and signs in first-grade prose to lawmakers in less than a week.
“Dear Committee Members, We are bagging you please,” read one letter. “Please support HB 2513,” another student wrote. “We will be so happy. Are class is begging you that the cairn terrier be a state dog.”
The class has also crafted persuasive signs that dare even the most hardened politician to hold back a smile. The signs allow Toto to speak directly to lawmakers through caption bubbles: “You should make Toto the state dog. Ruf, ruf, ruf” and “I am awesome awesome awesome I am awesome” and “Cute! Me? Yes.”
Gentz, a former Blue Valley teacher of the year, has encouraged teacher friends in McPherson and Newton to get their classrooms writing as well.
Parents have been amazed at the zeal it has created among their first-grade students. It’s gone beyond the cute puppy factor.
“It’s not your basic paper and pencil, ABCs lesson,” parent Leann Voor Vart said. “I was surprised my first-grader can come home and tell me what the bill number is and everything.”
Her 6-year-old daughter, Carlyn, and a friend even turned a play date into a brainstorming session for the cause.
They quizzed Voor Vart: “How many Facebook friends do you have? Could they all do it? Could I give them super duper coupons?” Carlyn asked, referring to her classroom reward system.
Parents said it’s a refreshing break from the horse race that often dominates politics.
“With all the crazy politics you hear, it’s kind of nice to focus on something that is just positive and get your kids involved,” Leann Voor Vart said.
Gentz knows this isn’t the most pressing issue facing Kansans. But it’s her job to challenge students.
“Kansas has big issues,” Gentz acknowledges. “But I just feel like this is something that has been an amazing learning experience for my kids.”
If it fails, well, she thinks the kids have gained wisdom that will last a lifetime.
“It’s been really powerful. I’m really proud of my kids,” Gentz said. “This is something that they will remember forever, especially if it passes.”
Such legislation can be difficult to get through to lawmakers who are set to make decisions on school finance, redistricting and the budget.
But the first-graders have no intention in making it easy to say no.
Lawmakers would be wise not to ignore the first-graders. As Gentz has learned, teaching first-graders about determination can be a tricky thing.
Students are using their persuasive skills to put the squeeze on Gentz for a classroom dog.
She’s managed to keep them satisfied with a stuffed Cairn terrier dubbed Toto for now. But lawmakers best be on guard. If the dog symbol doesn’t work out the first-graders have a plan B.
State cat, anyone?