La Crosse students lobby House members to make tiny frog state amphibian

Summit pupils testify for Billings' spring peeper bill
Three Students With Jill Testifying
Three Summit Environmental Elementary School students testifying in favor of Rep. Jill Billings' bill to make the spring peeper the Wisconsin state amphibian are, from left, Peyton Schultz, Ian Honaker and Julia Hendrickson. Billings is in background right. (Greg Anderson photo)

MADISON, Wis. (WKBT) – Almost 50 La Crosse fourth-graders who get to see and hear spring peepers up close and personal in a pond near their school got up close and personal with Wisconsin legislators Wednesday to lobby to make the tiny frog the state amphibian.

“It was kind of fun,” Summit Environmental Elementary School student Julia Hendrickson said of testifying at a public hearing before the Assembly’s Committee on State Affairs. Initially, the 9-year-old Julia said, “I was kind of nervous,” but the jitters subsided quickly.

Julia, testifying in favor of a bill proposed by hometown Democratic Rep. Jill Billings, said she especially likes the noise the spring peeper makes. Aptly, she described it as “like a peeping sound,” also described as a chirp.

Echoing Julia’s sentiments were 10-year-olds Ian Honaker and Leo McNown Beck, who also were among the six students who testified individually.

“When I started talking, I was nervous,” Ian said. “But after awhile, I wasn’t.”

“What I like is the peeper’s noise, but sometimes in gets on my nerves,” said Leo, who added that the frog’s size — about as big paper clip — is another attraction. “I think it’s a unique and amazing animal in many ways.”

Native to Wisconsin and existing in all 72 counties in the Badger State, the spring peeper — aka pseudacris crucifer — is a small tree frog that dwells in marshy woods and regions near marshes, ponds and swamps. As its name suggests, the spring peeper is known for its chirping call that marks the beginning of spring.

Billings and teachers Kris Franzini and Jessica Beecher referred to the dual purpose of the students’ studies and testimony.

“This is a great collaboration between Representative Billings and the school,” said Franzini, lauding Billings’ initiative to recognize the school’s environmental emphasis.

The quest to have the peeper represent the state tied the environmental curriculum with studying how proposals become laws, Franzini said.

“How laws are made is complex for kids,” so tracing the development of Assembly Bill 634 helped them learn the steps, Beecher said.

“This is a firsthand civic engagement project,” Billings said. “The students are able to learn the legislative process by doing and experiencing rather than solely reading from a textbook. It is great to team up with the teachers at Summit to provide this experience.”

Billings worked with the students during the past several months to research, draft and introduce the legislation.

“These students are so bright and have worked diligently on their research and testimony,” the La Crosse Democrat said. “I’m glad they had the opportunity today to travel to Madison and testify at a real public hearing.”

The hearing was streamed live on WisconsinEye and will be archived on its website.