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Culture & History

How a Group of 4th Grade Students Created History

Published in the July 2023 Issue Published online: Jul 05, 2023 Arts & Culture Maudie Heard
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By Maudie Heard

The Mountain Bluebird has been Idaho’s state bird since 1931, the Syringa as the state flower since 1931, the Western White Pine as the state tree since 1935, the Star Garnet as the state gem since 1967, the Cutthroat trout as the state fish since 1990 and the Wild Huckleberry as the state fruit since 2000. But, did you know Idaho hadn’t adopted a state dinosaur until 2023?

With the help of Joel Walton, a 4th grade teacher at the Ucon Elementary, and his class full of ambitious and determined students, Idaho now has a state dinosaur, the Oryctodromeus.

Mr. Walton and his class’s mission for Idaho to adopt a state dinosaur began in 2022. One student’s love for dinosaurs and a lesson on state symbols sparked the question, why doesn’t Idaho have a state dinosaur?

“I had a student who was crazy about dinosaurs,” Joel said. “One day I was quizzing the class asking, ‘What is the state dance? What is the state flower?’ Then I thought and asked this student, ‘Why don’t we have a state dinosaur?’”

The class’s newfound inspiration led them to reach out to Idaho State University paleontologist L.J. Krumenacker, who already knew exactly what dinosaur the class should lobby for. “He came to our class and educated us about this dinosaur,” Joel said. “Then we decided to get laws changed, we needed to reach out to lawmakers.” Each student wrote a persuasive essay and drew pictures explaining why the state should consider adopting a state dinosaur, and off they went to the state officials.

The class received a positive response, and one member of the Idaho state senate, Kevin Cook, brought to the class a 4 foot draft of the bill for the students that he would present when the legislative session began again the following year.

“I had my new class of students write their persuasive essays to educate and urge the lawmakers to support the bill Kevin was going to present,” Joel said. “I tell you, kid power is good stuff.”

The powerful movement drew in other classes full of students who were just as determined to get the law passed.

“We had quite a few people working on this with us,” Joel said. When it came time to testify at the senate committee, Joel and his students virtually attended, four of his students testifying. “It passed the senate, no sweat.”

“They repeatedly mentioned how impressed they were that kids would be testifying, lobbying and courageously speaking,” Joel said. With the bill on its way to the House committee, the movement needed more students to testify. On a Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. over spring break, a few of his students testified along with students from Boise and Edgemont.

“The movement had gotten even bigger,” he said. “And in short, the house voted almost unanimously.” On March 31, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed the bill into place, officially adopting the Oryctodromeus as a state symbol.

“I didn’t start this thinking, ‘Oh, I think this will work’,” Joel said. “I decided whether it works or not, it’s fun and educational for the kids to be involved in a civic process that’s real.” Despite his original doubts, the power of his and other courageous students created a movement that will forever be remembered in the state of Idaho.

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