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This State is Made for Walking, Hope Area Grade-Schoolers

By Diane Mota Morgan
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2002

ANNAPOLIS - Four years ago, milk became the official state drink, and the Astrodon johnstoni, the official dinosaur. And last year, the calico joined them as the official feline. 

This year, grade-schoolers want to add another emblem to the litany -- walking, the official Maryland state exercise. 

In October, the third-grade classes at East Silver Spring Elementary wrote Delegate William A. Bronrott, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, about their idea and reasons for the bill. 

Ruben, General Assembly watchers may remember, last year sponsored the failed state shrub bill. 

Walking helps you make new friends and "it's good for your body," one student wrote. Another said, "you might find cool rocks or ... caterpillars" when you walk. 

"Because some colleagues cringe at designated symbols," Bronrott said, at first he was "a little hesitant" to sponsor the bill. But Bronrott said it's a great way to promote the state and good health. 

If the legislation passes, Maryland may be the first state to have a state exercise, he said. 

"The state can use walking as a way to market Maryland -- show off our cities, towns and parks," Bronrott said. Also, "it's low impact, gives high results, and it's free." 

Wednesday, six representatives from the school participated in a bicycle and pedestrian symposium at the House of Delegates, working the room to gain support for their bill. 

The group handed out "Maryland Walks, Support HB 439" stickers, hoping to catch the ears of delegates as they entered and exited hearings. 

The inspiration for the bill was third-grader Will Smith. Will, 8, thought of it while looking at the state symbols online with his father, Bill Smith, of Silver Spring. 

"I noticed we didn't have a state exercise," Will said. "And I thought we should." 

Both father and son have a strong interest in walking, especially since the family doesn't own a car, and neither parent drives. 

The elder Smith started Walk to School Day in Montgomery County three years ago. It's a nationwide annual event to promote walking. 

The younger said he wants more people to walk "to help their respiratory system." 

"If people find out walking is the state exercise, they'd be a lot more encouraged to walk," Will said. 

Smith introduced the idea to his son's class, and the third-grade team of teachers, along with the principal and reading specialist, thought it would be a great project for the entire third grade. 

This experience "is making the classroom a real life experience," Melissa Gersh, Will's teacher, said. "Before this the students didn't know what a bill was or understand the process." 

The project, she said, has become a community effort. "The parents are just as excited." 

Bronrott shares Will's concern for a healthier Maryland. "Many children, as well as teen-agers and adults, are leading sedentary lives." 

Making walking the state exercise, he said, will "encourage (the development) of safe and walkable communities" and "get people out into their communities." 

Pupils will testify at the bill hearing scheduled for Feb. 20.

Copyright 2001 and 2002 University of Maryland College of Journalism.

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