It began last year when Daybreak Elementary fourth-grade teacher Alli Despain decided to teach her fourth-grade students a lesson about legislative process.
After learning about how bills become laws, last year’s fourth-graders followed legislation proposed by Monroe Elementary students to make the quaking aspen the state tree in place of the Colorado blue spruce.
“When they realized that fourth-graders could make a difference and could be heard, they wanted to create their own legislation,” Despain said.
Students spent time researching until one student, Lydia Kanenwisher, realized that the most common breed of domestic animal was a golden retriever. The class embraced the idea of proposing legislation that would make the golden retriever the state animal and voted to write a bill to introduce to the legislature, Despain said.
“The class needed to research and find supporting ways for their bill, and they wrote 28 different ways the golden retriever is tied to Utah. Then I Googled ‘how to write a bill,’ and printed off the template for the students,” she said.
Despain said each student wrote a draft, then, as a whole, the class collaborated on the final draft.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, of South Jordan, is sponsoring the bill that was heard in committee Feb. 4. Twenty-seven of last year’s and this year’s fourth-graders in Despain’s class were on hand to hear Despain and others, including dog handler Maureen Kilgour, who visited Daybreak with her golden retriever and therapy dog Gus, speak in favor of the bill. A litter of golden retriever puppies also wagged their tails in support.
“Two of the three committee members voted in support of the bill, so now we will be following it the rest of the way. I know that there have been some comments about the bill and the time and money spent on it, but if it gets one kid who realizes he or she can make a difference, then it’s totally worth it,” Despain said. “These kids are our future, and if this inspires them to be president or get involved in the legislature, then they can say it started with drafting this piece of legislation.”
It’s also been a lesson in understanding how the process works and being involved in it.
“The fact that these students realize they can write to a senator and have their voices be heard, even in fourth grade, says big things to them. They can do more than they thought they could,” Despain said.