Students enter political arena

Published 2:45 am Monday, January 24, 2005

By By Tim Cottrell
Who says our politicians don't listen?
A group of children in Shiren McGlothren's class at Escambia County Middle School found that at least one state senator was sympathetic to their aims.
On Thursday, Sen. W.H. "Pat" Lindsey visited the Turtle Point Environmental Science Center to receive a petition to make the Alabama Black Bear the state's official mammal from McGlothren's class.
"I will accept this petition and I will present a resolution to our legislature," Lindsey told the students in Turtle Point's education center.
Also present at the meeting were Shirley West, director of Turtle Point Environmental Science Center, Marisa Lee-Sasser of the Alabama Wildlife Federation's Communications Directive, Sonya Wood Mahler of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, and Sallye Longshore of the Alabama Board of Education's Environmental Education Division.
McGlothren was pleased with the way her students had responded to the program.
"The kids have really taken to this project," McGlothren said. "I had told Mrs. West that I had a class that would certainly be interested in this and they've learned so much.
"We also hope to go to Montgomery to witness the resolution signed into law, but we're going to have to seek some additional funding to do that."
Lindsey, a native of Choctaw County, was very enthusiastic about the petition.
"I grew up here in southwest Alabama and I developed a love of nature and wildlife," Lindsey said. "I'm excited to see our younger generations sharing that enthusiasm."
Lee-Sasser and Mahler said there were numerous reasons for the effort to make the black bear our state mammal.
"We want the black bear to have a positive connotation," Lee-Sasser said. "We feel that making it the state mammal would not only decrease fear and increase education about (the bear), but would also lead to more efforts at conservation and relocation."
"We really want to show that the bear is welcome in Alabama," Mahler added. "I feel that more education is going to only help the bear continue to survive."
Another reason for the effort was the fact that Alabama has an official state reptile (the Alabama red-bellied turtle) and an official state nut (the Pecan), but no state mammal.
Mahler also gave the children in Mrs. McGlothren's class a survey to see their overall awareness of the Alabama Black Bear, and the survey produced mixed results.
Most of the students in the class were not very well-informed about basic characteristics of the bear, but more importantly they showed a great willingness to conserve and protect it.
"While many of them didn't know a great deal about the bear, but almost all of them responded that they would not be afraid if they saw one," Mahler said. "They also were very willing to have relocation programs and conservation programs to protect the bear's habitat."
One encouraging aspect of the survey was that it had also been given three years ago to several special interest groups (including the Alabama Wildlife Federation) by Will Underwood of Auburn University's Forestry Department and the students showed marked improvement.
"There was very little knowledge about the bear and while most were willing to have conservation projects, it was pretty close." Underwood said.
The Atmore students were overwhelmingly in favor of such projects.
Sallye Longshore of the state board of education was most excited by this effort for one reason; it crossed a number of academic aisles.
"Not only are these kids getting a great course in the environment," she said, "They are also getting lessons in social studies, history, and government with the legislature's involvement. Opportunities for education like this aren't seen often."

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