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Local school's lessons lead to new state law

Reese Road Leadership Academy lived up to its name as real-life civics lessons resulted in a new state law.

During the final day of the 2015 legislative session Thursday, the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 70, which designates the white-tailed deer as the state's official mammal -- thanks to the inquiry and lobbying from Reese Road students.

The journey started at the beginning of the school year, when Reese Road fourth-grader Kevin Green was working on a Cub Scout project with Pack 362 at Nazareth Baptist Church. Required to list some state symbols, he noticed Georgia was one of only a few states to not have an official mammal.

Kevin mentioned this anomaly to his mother, Muscogee County School Board member Pat Hugley Green of District 1, and she mentioned it to Reese Road principal Pam McCoy. Since the curriculum calls for the first grade to study habitats and Kevin's sister, Kaylah, is a Reese Road first-grader, McCoy said, it was an ideal project for the first-grade classes to explore.

They wrote a letter to Hugley Green's sister-in-law, state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, asking her to sponsor such legislation. After researching the subject, the first-graders voted and chose the gray fox as the proposed state mammal. On Feb. 11, more than 80 Reese Road first-graders were escorted to the Georgia Capitol, where some of them testified before the Special Rules Committee in support of HB 70.

Hugley Green noted in an email that the first-graders showed the "poise and leadership qualities that they are learning at their 7 Covey Habits School." Reese Road infuses "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey into its lesson plans. And they sure were effective that day in Atlanta because the House passed the bill last month.

Although the Georgia Department of Natural Resources intervened and suggested the white-tailed deer instead, and that version of the bill passed the Senate on Tuesday, the House agreed Thursday, so the state finally has an official mammal. Regardless of the species, the real winners in this political saga are the students, McCoy said.

"When you open that history book or social studies book and you see the state mammal and realize your school was responsible for that," she said, "it's like a dream come true."

McCoy emphasized the project was incorporated into the first grade's regular instruction.

"When we talk about integrating the curriculum with experiences, I think we accomplished that," she said. "This is what education should be."

Reese Road was busy Thursday preparing for the Georgia Milestones tests, the state's standardized exams that start next week. That's why the reaction was subdued when the announcement was made in the school, McCoy said, but the students and staff will indeed celebrate, They haven't set the date yet, she said, "because we are waiting to find out if the governor can come and sign the bill here."

Along with Hugley, the rest of the local House delegation co-sponsored the bill: Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City; John Pezold, R-Columbus; Richard Smith, R-Columbus; and Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

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