Students make history with orca bill

Gov. Christine Gregoire told Crescent Harbor Elementary School second graders Thursday that historians will remember what they accomplished through their class project this year.

The Crescent Harbor students were the center of attention at the Governor’s Office in Olympia as Gregoire signed into a law a bill that originated in their classroom.

The State of Washington has a new state symbol thanks to a two-year effort of the Oak Harbor children who sought out to turn a civics lesson into a lasting and historic impression.

The bill names the orca, also known as killer whale, as the official state marine mammal, joining other symbols such as apple as the fruit, steelhead trout as the fish, American Goldfinch as the bird.

“I bet no one else in the U.S. has done what you’ve done,” Gregoire told the children. “The history books will write about you, do you know that?”

The governor then shook hands with their teacher, Bonnie Alanis, and congratulated her on a lesson plan that made a difference. The idea originated with Peggy Mihalik, the school’s library assistant, who realized the state did not have an official marine mammal.

The project became a good blend of students’ studies of whales, people, communities and government ­— especially how laws are made.

Students collected more than 1,000 signatures from adults throughout Western Washington applauding the children’s efforts in promoting the first “Orca Bill.”

Alanis’ class promoted the bill for last year’s legislative session, but it never made it through the House.

This year, with 27 legislators signing on as co-sponsors, it passed the House and Senate and became law with Gregoire’s signature.

Before signing the bill, Gregoire read letters the children wrote to legislators in hopes of getting their support. “Now, this is real lobbying,” she said.

Standing with the children during the signing ceremony were some of the primary sponsors, including Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island), Rep. Barbara Bailey (R-Oak Harbor), Rep. Chris Strow (R-Clinton), and Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo).

“This was an amazing civics lesson which gave these children an opportunity to see firsthand how laws are made and become a part of Washington’s history,” said Bailey. “It was wonderful to see the look on each of their faces today as they toured the Capitol building, met the governor, and watched their bill being signed into law.”

“It’s been just great to see the enthusiasm from the students,” said Strow. “This is an excellent example of how open the democratic process is to Washington citizens.”

When the students arrived at the Capitol Thursday, they were invited by Bailey into the House Republican Caucus room during the middle of a meeting. They listened to the discussion and were introduced to members of the caucus.

Later, as the students met the governor, they presented her with thank-you cards they had written which also contained artwork of the orca.

The governor read one out loud: “Maybe since we made the orca our new state symbol, people will stop throwing trash and pollution in the water.”

Other official state symbols include “Alki” as the motto, coast rhododendron as the flower, “The Evergreen State” as the nickname, western hemlock as the tree, “Washington, My Home” as the song, petrified wood as the gem, square dance as the dance, “President Washington” as the ship, “Roll On, Columbia, Roll On” as the folk song, bluebunch wheatgrass as the grass, green darner dragonfly as the insect, and Columbian Mammoth as the fossil.

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