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Some North Carolina 5th graders want to make the sweet potato the state's official vegetable, and they say nothing will stop them.

Self-proclaimed the "Tater Tots," these 25 students at Elvis Street Elementary in Wilson first persuaded their local state representative, Gene Arnold, to introduce a bill to honor the sweet potato, one of the state's major crops. Then, when the bill bogged down in committee, they enlisted the help of other 5th graders across the state and blitzed legislative leaders with faxes and mail.

"We're never going to quit, never," Shawn Griffin wrote to Speaker of the House Harold Brubaker. "We'll nag you to death."

The bill passed unanimously in the House and moved to the Senate, where an equally aggressive campaign is planned.

Meanwhile, the lobbying effort has given all the school's students a new interest in politics, said Celia Ashe Batchelor, the 5th graders' teacher.

"I can't walk through the Kmart without at least one little kid saying, 'Mrs. Batchelor, how's the sweet-potato bill doing?'" she said.

A class on car-phone safety may be coming to a school near you soon.

A small, one-state pilot program that started a few years ago to teach teenagers how to use cellular telephones in cars has grown into a 14-state, 1,000-school enterprise.

Ameritech, a Chicago-based communications company, devised the original curriculum in the early 1990's. Now, more than 20 cellular-phone companies are giving schools free phones, air time, and technical assistance.

The basic message: Don't dial and drive. Better to pull over and make the call from a standstill.

While this may sound suspiciously like an industrywide plot to develop brand loyalty among teenagers, the cost--as much as $8 per student--is a bit steep for that, said John Cusack, the executive director of the industry-sponsored National Cellular SAFETALK Center in Elgin, Ill. Rather, the industry hopes to make the next generation of car-phone users smarter than the current one.

"People do have accidents while using cellular phones," he said. "The bottom line is, we've got to do something about that."

--Drew Lindsay

Vol. 14, Issue 38

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