Published Online: February 25, 1998

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Gator Craze

Third graders at Newton County Elementary School in Decatur, Miss., let out a collective whoop this month when the state Senate voted unanimously to grant their request and designate the alligator as Mississippi's official reptile.

Lori Jones, the 2nd grade teacher leading the students' campaign, said the students yelled with delight at making an impact on the legislative process.

Now, they're busy writing to lobby members of the House to go along with their wish.

The 125 students involved got the idea last year from a visiting naturalist, who told them that the alligator was first discovered in Mississippi.

Although it was too late in the year to get a bill introduced, the students never lost enthusiasm for the project. Ms. Jones drummed up support among other 2nd grade teachers, and they began in earnest with the 3rd graders this year.

The bill was sponsored by Tommy Gollot, the Democratic chairman of the Senate rules committee. Now, the children are trying to charm state Rep. Tommy Horne, an Independent who chairs the House committee.

The experience has been an excellent government lesson, Ms. Jones said.

Values Lesson

Also in Mississippi, lawmakers are butting heads over how schools should contribute to the morals and values of students.

In a bill lamenting that the nation "has moved from her Bible-based founding principles," the House is calling for a voluntary character education curriculum centering on virtues defined in the Noah Webster Dictionary from 1828.

The definitions of virtues reflect the aspirations of the country's founding fathers, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Charles B. Smith, an Independent.

But he opposes a last-minute addition of "tolerance education" to the bill because, it could open the door to groups that promote homosexuality or other activities he sees as immoral.

The Senate passed a bill that lists various values that could be taught in schools. But it avoids the religious language in the House bill.

The chambers must consider each bill before a conference committee can be convened this spring.

--ANN BRADLEY & ROBERT C. JOHNSTON

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