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Fifth-graders say ‘very special’ stonefly should be state insect

Bill drafted by students, Rep. Hood, headed to legislature 

Grand Rapids — While researching the 50 states and their symbols, students at Aberdeen Academy noticed something: Michigan doesn’t have a state insect. And that’s something they aim to change. 

Enter the stonefly, which Emma Witkovsky’s fifth-graders are proposing the state adopt as its official insect.

The students devoted hours to researching possible crawly candidates before making their selection; and, after landing on their bug of choice, they called on their state representative to help make it official.

81st Dist. State House Rep. Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids, was happy to get behind the project, and she recently visited the class to give an update on how things are going. 

A bill has been drafted, she said, and will soon be registered and introduced to the House of Representatives.

Students like Alana Kinbrough and Adrian Mayberry were overjoyed to hear it. They’re already thinking about how they’ll celebrate if the bill is signed into law.

“I’ll probably brag about it to people who don’t know,” Alana said.

“I’ll throw a whole party,” added Adrian.

‘I think this bill is about putting our kids first and rewarding their really thoughtful learning and community activism. … As much as it is about the stonefly, about water quality and the Great Lakes, it’s also about making sure our kids know that our legislative system and our governance system works for them.’

— State Rep. Rachel Hood

Why the Stonefly?

Students got to show off some of what they’ve learned about stoneflies during a presentation to Hood about why they picked the insect and what makes it special.

Stoneflies are a crucial part of Michigan’s rivers, lakes and waterways, they said. They’re essential to the food chain, and they serve as indicators of water quality, as many species need clean and well-oxygenated water in order to survive. 

Adrian said the stonefly has many qualities that make it an ideal choice.

“It’s helpful to animals. It tells animals what water is clean or not,” he said. “It also helps fish because they need to eat, and they eat stoneflies.”

Alana agreed, calling the insects “very special.”

Nevaeh Edwards told Hood she was spooked by the bugs initially, but she’s grown to appreciate them through her work on the state insect project.

“At first I was scared, but then when my teacher let me know about it, it was kind of cool,” Nevaeh said. “It’s cool to look at.”

Next Stop: the Capitol

Hood told students about the next steps in the process, and walked them through how bills like theirs become law. 

There are several steps ahead, she said — registration, introduction, co-sponsorships, first readings, committees, floor votes and approvals from both legislative chambers — before the bill would go before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But, she said, there’s a lot working in its favor.

“This is the kind of bill that has the potential to get a unanimous vote,” she said. “And let me tell you, we have some grumpy voters in the State House and they don’t vote yes for (just) anything. But this type of thing? This is right up their alley.”

Hood thinks legislators will be keen to act on the matter once they realize that Michigan is one of only two states to lack a designated official insect. 

“That’s good news for our bill, right? Because we’ve gotta catch up with those other states,” Hood said. “We’ve gotta tell them the stonefly is the insect for Michigan.”

When the bill reaches the committee level, there’s a chance the students might be able to make their case directly, by visiting Lansing to talk about their bill and why it should be approved.

If the bill is approved by the House and the Senate, and signed by Whitmer, Hood said students will have earned that celebration Adrian and Alana were eyeing.

“That means you’ve done some work to change the state, and if you change the state you’re changing the whole world, right?”

From left, fifth-graders Mason Malosh, C.J. Sederquist, JaMilah White-Lester, Mike Krivoy and Georgia Marshall give a presentation about the stonefly and why it should be Michigan’s official state insect

‘Putting Our Kids First’

After visiting Witkovsky’s class, Hood told SNN that she’s hoping to move the bill forward in the coming weeks. There’s a lot on the docket for the period before the break in June, but she’s aiming to see quick progress.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to prioritize it and get it done,” Hood said. “We have seen several bills that have been championed by students, and I think when kids care about something, it causes the legislature to take special care in moving the bills forward.”

Above all, she’s hoping the proposal gets traction because if it does, that will send an important message to students: it will let them know that their voice matters.

“I think this bill is about putting our kids first and rewarding their really thoughtful learning and community activism,” Hood said. “As much as it is about the stonefly, about water quality and the Great Lakes, it’s also about making sure our kids know that our legislative system and our governance system works for them.”

Read more from Grand Rapids: 
Education leaders weigh in on free preschool, community college proposals
What MLK means to them: Sixth-graders channel civil rights leader

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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