The fifth-grade students filled two rows of seats in the D.C. Council hearing room Friday, fidgeting as they prepared to testify.
Their objective: Persuade the council members to adopt the Potomac bluestone as the city’s official rock.
“When I heard that D.C. didn’t have its own rock, I was like, ‘What?’ I was super surprised,” Katherine Geislinger, 10, said when she approached the microphone.
Students in Risha Clark’s fourth-grade class last year at John Eaton Elementary School in Northwest learned through the course of a geography unit that the District, unlike many states, does not have an official rock. Ten-year-old Peter Herrick asked David A. Catania (I-At Large) about that this past spring when the council member visited the school.
Catania listened to Peter and the rest of the class and decided to help them wage a campaign. In June, with many of the students in attendance, he introduced the “DC Rocks, So We Need One Act of 2014.”
“What started off as a science project became a civics lesson,” Catania said.
On Friday, it also became an exercise in persuasion and public speaking.
Before they approached the council members, the students were advised to keep their remarks brief and to compel the chairman to move the bill this year. Then, nine students took turns selling their plan.
An official rock would encourage more tourism, they asserted, as well as invite the interest of international scientists and even help the District in its fight for statehood and equal rights.
They raised the issue of fairness (Maryland has a state gem, the Patuxent River agate) and the issue of consistency (the District already has an official flower, bird and tree.)
The Potomac bluestone is a natural candidate for the honor, they explained, because it is commonly found in the region and has historic significance: It was used in the construction of the White House and the Capitol.
“Give me a rock or give me death,” said William L. Hansen, 10, a military history buff, invoking Patrick Henry.
Catania told them: “This is about young people feeling empowered enough to change the course of history, which is what you are going to do if you get this measure passed.”
He said he hopes to see them return to the John A. Wilson Building to advocate for other things they believe would improve life in the District.
“I do think we should have less homework,” Katherine volunteered. Another student took her moment at the microphone to press Catania, a mayoral candidate, about a controversial school boundaries plan that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) adopted in August.
“Where would my brother, who is in kindergarten, go to middle school?” she asked. Catania responded that her brother would attend the same school — Alice Deal Middle — that she plans to attend and said he does not intend to limit that option for other families.
Before the students left, Catania asked the students if they could see how they were making their mark on history.
“This won’t be like the Civil Rights Act,” William said. “But it might be a smaller section in the history book of how D.C. got its state rock.”
A second public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 29, and a vote is likely in November.