Dexter elementary students learn about the legislature and debate the state bird with local state representative


State Rep. Carrie Rheingans, standing, visited Dexter's Wylie Elementary School on Jan. 30. photo by Lonnie Huhman

Should the state of Michigan change its state bird from an American robin to a Kirtland’s Warbler?

How are laws made?

What is shared money?

These were some of the topics and questions talked about during the discussion students at Wylie Elementary School had with State Rep. Carrie Rheingans, who paid a special visit to the Dexter school on Jan. 30 after an invite from teacher Deb Eber.

Some of the teachers at Wylie are using the visit to help with class projects, such as learning about opinion writing.

In beginning her talk, Rheingans, who is a month into her first term, explained her job as an elected state representative. She also asked students questions about their government in Lansing.

In summing up much of what she does, she told them she helps to make laws, which included her citing the steps from creation of a bill to discussions and voting to making it a law; and they also talked about how she helps to make decisions regarding spending shared money, also known as taxes.

Rheingans represents the 47th House District, which includes parts of Jackson County and Washtenaw County: Columbia Township, Napoleon Township, Norvell Township, Dexter city, Freedom Township, Lima Township, Manchester Township, Scio Township, Sharon Township, and parts of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Township, Grass Lake Township, and Summit Township.

In her talk, she said it was important that she fully understands the bills and decisions before her, which includes taking in different opinions and views. This led the group into talking about the idea of potentially changing the state bird from an American robin to a Kirtland’s Warbler.

Last year, Michigan State Rep. Greg Markkanen did introduce a bill to make the change. His reasoning cited the Kirtland’s Warbler as a uniquely Michigan bird while the robin is quite common in many states also as a state bird, and that this Warbler was on the endangered list, but has made a comeback and deserves to be recognized to help bring more awareness to its story.

Rheingans said in her own home, her husband, who is a birder, is all for the change while her daughter is not.

A Kirtland's Warbler. photo courtesy of the web page,

Looking at both sides of an argument is a big part of her job, she said.

“We have to listen to all different people about why we should change the bird, or not change the bird,” she said.

The students themselves were divided on the topic as well. Some students cited the uniqueness of the Kirtland’s Warbler to Michigan and that recognizing it might help its comeback from the endangered species list while other students cited the robin as a longstanding, popular symbol that is seen by many people around the state all year-round and is a welcome sight.

In preparation of the visit, students in Ms. Eber’s class put together opposing arguments on the bird topic. These were displayed on large pieces of paper that were taped to the white board for everyone to see and read.

One note on the sheet in support of the robin, which has been the state for over 90 years, said, “Why right now---more important things.”

Wylie students in support of keeping the robin put this together with their teacher. photo by Lonnie Huhman

On the other hand, one note in support of the Kirtland’s Warbler said, “MI (Michigan) can claim it because it’s a MI (Michigan) success story---we saved them.”

The students in support of the Kirtland's Warbler put this together with their teacher. photo by Lonnie Huhman

A student asked Rheingans where this bill stands today. She said its back to the drawing board because there’s a new legislature in session, so the bird change idea would need a new bill to be created for it to re-enter the legislation process.

So stay tuned and have the debate at home.

Eber and her fellow teachers were happy with the visit. The students asked good questions, gave feedback and received some good insight into the life of a real state legislator.

The American robin. photo courtesy of
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