ANNAPOLIS – Like most states, Maryland has a state flower, the black-eyed susan, and a state tree, the white oak – so, some Takoma Park students said, why not something in between?
The Maryland General Assembly will consider a bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, to name the pinxterbloom azalea as the state shrub.
The idea for the bill came in fall when Cindy Allen, parent of a fourth- grader at Piney Branch Elementary School in Takoma Park, thought it would be good idea if students could introduce a bill and follow its progress as part of their social studies classes.
“I would hope it would give them a sense that they can make a change,” she said.
Fliers were sent to students’ families asking for their ideas, and Allen and Dorothy Sturek, a fourth-grade teacher, pored over the suggestions. They included a state snack, the boardwalk fry; a state mammal, the racehorse; and a state amusement, the carousel, Allen said.
They had their doubts about the boardwalk fry for nutritional reasons, and the racehorse for moral reasons, so they decided on the pinxterbloom azalea, with its pink and white flowers, for its “local interest.”
It is a “natural living organism in our state that occurs throughout the state. . . it’s common and vibrant all over the state,” Allen said.
In fact, she said, “Takoma Park is called the `Azalea City.'”
Hannah Wolfman-Arent, a 9-year-old member of the Student Government Association, also thinks the azalea a good choice because “it keeps growing all its life and we keep learning all of our life and it sort of connects to us in a way.”
The original idea for the azalea belongs to Ann Lafferty, a former Maryland Senate aide and the mother of 9-year-old Mike.
“It’s exciting,” Mike said. “Other people . . . may change Maryland, but I don’t know them personally. But I know [this] person changing Maryland.”
A state shrub is not the only unusual symbol suggested to the General Assembly by elementary students this session.
Fifth-grade Allegany county students initiated a bill to make the calico cat Maryland’s state cat. That bill was heard Thursday, the same day the shrub bill was introduced.
Ruben said she agreed to sponsor the azalea measure primarily to get the children involved in the political process.
“Every once in a while we have to open our doors to the children,” she said.
“I’m just hopeful that they do well and stand up for their reasons for wanting the bill.”
Sturek said she hopes this activity has a long-term impact on the children.
“If we spark a little interest in the Legislature and politics, maybe we’ll get some honest politicians . . . they’ll be exposed to the fact that laws just don’t happen, people make them happen.”