SKANEATELES | She couldn't even touch the floor from the chair she was sitting in, but from her classroom, she touched the hearts of New York state legislators last week.
State Street Intermediate School fourth-grade Lili Winkelman gained national attention after her effort to get the wood frog named New York state's official amphibian resulted in a 53-4 vote in the state Senate in favor of the designation.
The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. John DeFrancisco after Winkelman and her classmates contacted his office, will now go before the state Assembly for a vote at a yet-to-be-determined time.
In the meantime, Winkelman and her teacher, Irene Manna, have been interviewed by local and national media, including The New York Times, and were featured on HuffPost Live's segment Tell Me Why, which features young people talking about their passions and inspirations.
Sitting in front of a screen in the Zoom Room video laboratory at Skaneateles High School and speaking to host Alyona Minkovski through a Google+ Hangout, Winkelman showed off her favorite stuffed frog, Frannie, and the rest of her croaking comrades – Freddy, Frank, Fern and Arnold, to name a few – as she talked about her achievement.
Winkelman noted the wood frog is currently the state's unofficial amphibian but is on its way to getting full-blown designation. She told Minkovski about the potential scientific benefits studying wood frogs could have – helping people manage diabetes, finding better ways to transport donated organs and saving people whose blood flow stops.
"I like that it can freeze in the winter and reanimate in the spring," Winkelman said as she listed off more facts about the wood frog. "When they have babies, they group by families."
Winkelman told Minkovski her fascination with frogs started when she was just three months old and received Fannie as a gift.
"I've liked frogs for a really long time, probably most of my life," she said. "Mom and Grandma are really proud of me. They're excited for the wood frog to go into legislation."
Noting that even all of her classmates "all like frogs," Winkelman told Minkovski the next step is to have a frog celebration, complete with frog-themed cake, decorations and games.
When Minkovski pointed that just 18 states have official amphibians and Illinois and Minnesota are among the states trying to gain official designation, Winkelman said she would encourage people in those states to do the same thing that she and her classmates did.
"Write persuasive essays because that's what we did," she said. "So far, it's going well, so that would be my advice."
And through the project, Winkelman said, she and her classmates learned that it can take a long time for bills to get on the legislative calendar for consideration. Their effort took just four and a half months, a relatively short amount of time.
Classmate Ashton Bennett said the project began when the class was designing a T-shirts and wanted to put some sort of state symbol on them.
When Winkelman suggested the wood frog, he said, the students learned of its unofficial status and started their effort to help it become official.
"For two or three weeks, we wrote persuasive essays," Jack Henry said, noting those letters were sent to DeFrancisco and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and now the legislature is considering the wood frog's status.
The class also learned that a woman in Alaska lobbied to make the sled dog the official dog of that state through a similar effort.
"She sent in persuasive efforts that she wrote, and she kind of encouraged us to do the same," Drew Goethe said.
Nathan Pickup said Manna posted a timeline in her classroom showing month by month what the wood frog would be doing at different points in time – freezing yet staying alive in the winter, producing babies and forming families, and the like.
"She had a lot of stuff on there," he said.
Holly Teasdale-Edwards also noted that the class found out some legislation could take several years to gain consideration and passage, while their legislation took just a few months.
The class simply hoped to see the wood frog gain official designation by the time they graduated high school, Manna said, and now it could happen sooner than that.
"It was shocking because it happened so fast, and we thought it would take a long time," Teasdale-Edwards said.
With the school year nearing its end, Manna said she will set up a wood frog blog so her soon-to-be former students can tune in to find out more about its status as they await the Assembly's vote.
While the students winded down from watching Winkelman's appearance on HuffPost Live and prepared to head back to State Street, Elementary Principal Steve Widrick stopped by the Zoom Room to offer his congratulations on their achievement.
He noted the class started their effort as a simple class project and turned it into something with possible historical implications.
"Look at how you made it into an experience you're never going to forget," he said.