ANNAPOLIS – Sam Barth, a 9-year-old student from Takoma Park’s Piney Branch Elementary School, came to Annapolis Wednesday to ask senators to make the azalea the state shrub.
Now he’s hooked on politics.
“It’s fun to speak in front of people,” he said. “I might be a politician after this.”
“Go back (to school) and tell them you got an `A,'” said Senate Environmental and Economic Affairs Committee Chairman Clarence W. Blount, D- Baltimore, after the boy testified. “You’re going to be down here one day.”
Barth and 38 other fourth-graders from the school asked the committee to pass Senate Bill 358, which would name the pinxterbloom azalea as a state symbol.
Six of the students, including Barth, read their testimony, which they wrote on their own. They touted the azalea for reasons ranging from its beauty and its fragrance to its environmental benefits.
“There are a lot of pink azaleas here in Maryland and you can easily find them… I think that pink represents lots of strength inside us,” said Liliana Rodriguez.
Also testifying was Bob Hobbs, former president of the Azalea Society of America, a group that started in Maryland. He said he supported the students’ wholeheartedly.
“This is such a tough act to follow,” he said, referring to the children who spoke before him.
The students were excited to meet the senators, and a few even got sponsoring Sen. Ida G. Ruben’s, D-Montgomery, autograph before the hearing.
Besides the fact that “this was totally worth missing school,” Barth said, it helped the students learn a lot about the legislative process and even azaleas.
“I really didn’t know anything about shrubs in the first place,” said student Jesse Gonzalez.
“I thought it was just some plant,” Barth added.
The bill was the idea of a student’s mother, Cindy Allen, who organized the project among fourth-graders at the school to introduce a bill for a state symbol and follow its progress in the General Assembly.
Students and their families submitted ideas, and the azalea bush was chosen.
Ruben said she sponsored the bill to get youth involved.
“If this encourages young people to become interested in the legislative procedure and in elected officials, then I think we’ve taken a giant step forward,” she said.
There have been other bills regarding state emblems introduced this session. The bill to name the calico cat the state feline also was the idea of elementary school students, and it was approved by the full House. The bills to name a state gem, change Maryland’s state song and designate a second state bird were voted down in committee.