SKANEATELES | Students at State Street Intermediate School haven’t forgotten about Woody, the wood frog they hope to make the official New York state amphibian.
They are starting right where they left off last June, when they came within one short hop of having their dream come true. Irene Manna’s fourth-grade class, led by frog enthusiast Lili Winkelman, drew state and national attention to the unique attributes and overall significance of the wood frog.
A bill to elevate the frog from unofficial to official status as the state amphibian passed through the Senate but died in the Assembly when the legislative session ended.
Now, those students are in fifth grade, and they have formed a Wood Frog Club to make sure the effort for official recognition doesn’t die. They are working to create a website on the district’s main page, and they are planning to have a Wood Frog Bulletin Board for all to see.
One recent morning, they got to school an hour early to meet with Assemblyman Gary Finch, who has helped them since last year.
As students and Manna quizzed him, Finch gave the students tips on how to further their cause.
“Time is important,” he said, explaining how they must know and understand the legislative schedule. “And planning is even more important than anything.”
As they “start from scratch again,” he told them to come up with a novel, unique way to catch the attention of Assembly Chairman Steve Englebright and others.
“You need to figure out a way to get to the top of the pile,” Finch said.
The students know that the wood frog is unique: It actually freezes to hibernate in the winter and re-animates in the spring.
"It might help organ donors because if the scientists find out how it can freeze, it might help them find out how organ transplants can be frozen, thawed and not damaged," Winkelman said.
But in the end, it isn’t really Woody the wood frog that inspires Finch or Manna the most: it is the students.
“The world will go on if Woody never becomes the state amphibian,” Finch told the students. “The important thing is that Woody is serving as a learning tool. I am here because I think it is so important for you to understand the legislative process.”
“It is the journey that counts,” she said. She turned to Finch and told him “you are looking at future assemblymen, senators, vice presidents and maybe even presidents.”
Finch said the most important job is to be a teacher “and that is why I want to help educate you.” Whether the bill passes or not, the students will learn.
“In fact, the greatest teacher we have is failure,” he said.
Finch told students that someday, when they graduate from high school or college, they will look back and remember how much they learned in their days at State Street, when they believed in a cause and tried to make a difference.