2013-06-27 / Schools

Civics lesson leads to bill for possible state candy

Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE — Are they students or are they senators?

Fourth-graders at Samsel Upper Elementary School, Parlin, received a lesson in government and civic engagement that produced a bill that is currently waiting to be passed in New Jersey legislature.

Led by teachers Dana DeBell, Lisa Eicher, Jodi Schreier and Josephine Tutela, and media specialist Mary Desmond, the fourth-grade classes came up with an idea to designate saltwater taffy as the official state candy.

“[Desmond] came to our classes, asking us if we wanted to work on a bill becoming a law,” Eicher, who is also a Sayreville councilwoman, said. “She came to our classes, and we all met together and discussed what we could do.”

Eicher said the fourth-grade curriculum included a lesson in government and how a bill becomes a law. The teachers came up with the idea to include the students in the process, instead of just explaining how government functions.

“The curriculum had us teaching how a bill becomes a law, so we [as a class] did some research on how that happens,” Eicher said. “We discovered while learning about all the state symbols that there was no state candy. Then kids narrowed it down to saltwater taffy.”

Saltwater taffy seemed to be the obvious choice for the students after learning about the treat’s origins in Atlantic City in 1883.

“In the beginning, it was just taffy under the stand [owned by David Bradley that] was flooded. And when a little girl asked for taffy, he jokingly offered her saltwater taffy,” Eicher said. “We figured with [superstorm] Sandy and flooding, it all came together and it was meant to be our choice.”

Little did the students expect that their classroom bill could actually become New Jersey law. Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) visited a class to teach them about the function of government, and when a student asked him to sponsor their saltwater taffy bill, he obliged.

“Bill A-4229 was introduced into the Assembly on June 10,” Eicher said.

By press time, the bill was referred to the Assembly State Government Committee.

The fourth-graders’ lesson may have a strong effect closer to home as well. As part of their civics lesson, the students wrote to the Sayreville Borough Council about what they would like to see in the community.

“I told them that things get done when residents write letters to the council,” Eicher said. “So I had them do that — they had ideas for what they want to see. A lot of them want a community pool or a community center.”

Eicher’s experience on the council did not go unnoticed by students either.

“Council can be frustrating, but being able to share my experience firsthand in a lesson is incredible,” Eicher said. “When we talk about state government, I’m able to go a little more into depth because I can tell them what I do when I’m at the council, how we work on taxes and how we vote.”

Eicher said that the council members plan to review the students’ letters at a future meeting.

Contact Stella Morrison at smorrison@gmnews.com.

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