Last year, Ed Kolnaski asked his seventh-grade humanities students to come up with projects that would help their community.
They spent about a month immersing themselves in a range of social, environmental, gender, climate change, and animal welfare issues. They sold baked goods to support the local honeybee population. They raised awareness about veterans in the region. And eventually, one issue topped the rest.
Like most kids, they love their pets, and they worry about the ones they can’t feed and care for themselves - the ones that end up in shelters, waiting, sometimes in vain, for adoption; the ones, who, because they were not spayed or neutered, produce unwanted offspring.
Kolnaski coupled all that real-world learning with information about the state political process. And soon, his class reached consensus - another valuable life lesson - on a viable, fiscally and socially responsible idea worthy of attention by their elected representatives. It’s listed on Vermont’s legislative website, in the Transportation Committee, as House Bill 252, introduced by Representatives Brian Savage and Marianna Gamache of Swanton.
It reads, in part, “This bill proposes to authorize the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles to issue special pet license plates upon payment of an additional fee with most of the proceeds of the additional fee to be allocated to a special fund and disbursed as grants to animal shelters and rescue organizations.”
The idea is for motorists to pay, say, $20 extra for a license plate that could save thousands of domestic animals from untimely demise, similar to what Vermonters did to help peregrine falcons - once officially endangered, and now making a dramatic comeback. I expect Kolnaski’s students know that – and also, now, how a bill becomes law, as well as how to get media attention since it was a press release about their project that caught my eye.
I’m a former education reporter, and I once reported on a student from the Northeast Kingdom who overcome controversy to convince the legislature and former Governor Shumlin to approve a new Latin motto for Vermont: “Stella quarta decima fulgeat” or May the fourteenth star shine bright.
And we do shine as a state when we encourage the next generation to get involved in the political process. House Bill 252 may not see action in this session, but who knows where this good idea, and the efforts of a bright group of middle-school lawmakers, may take us?