It all started with a fourth grade Derry Village Elementary School field trip to Concord last year. Derry Village fourth grade teacher Amy Landry got the idea of trying to get a law passed and presented it to her class, and everyone thought it would be a good project. The students tossed out ideas and what eventually emerged was a decision to try to get the potato approved as the State Vegetable.
Landry contacted State Rep. John O’Connor, R Derry and got the ball rolling. The students did research and developed support for the potato but by the time all that was accomplished, it was too late for a bill to be filed last year. Undaunted, the next fourth grade class Landry had took over the project. O’Connor had instructed Landry to get in touch after the fall elections and she said she was on the line to him on Nov. 8.
“He has flown with this,” she said. “He wrote the bill and sponsored the bill. He’s on the Agricultural Committee, which of course is just a great committee for this bill to go through.” When the time came for the House to debate the bill, the class was invited to watch, and the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) stepped forward and funded a bus to transport the class and the teachers and assistants to Concord. A parent designed T-shirts that read: “New Hampshire, 1719 – First In The Nation,” along with a picture of a potato plant. Left Tees in Derry offered a discount for the shirts, and the 41 students arrived garbed style.
“We were told the kids had to be absolutely quiet and respectful,” Landry said. “With 41 enthusiastic and excited kids that was difficult, but they were really very good, using hand signals for thumbs up when they agreed with a speaker or thumbs down when they disagreed. They did the thumbs down when some legislators spoke of favoring broccoli as the State Vegetable because it is more nutritious.
“The legislators gave the students a great lesson in how a bill is debated and even used the electronic voting boxes so they could see how they worked,” she added. The vote in the House was 276 in favor and 75 opposed. The bill now goes to the Senate, where no date for debate is yet available. “This was a class project and I didn’t expect it to go beyond the four walls of my classroom,” Landry said. “But it has just exploded. It is one of those things that as a teacher you dream about.” The story has been picked up by national media outlets, including USA Today. Landry has heard from Ireland, where a BBC staffer is working with a school in Derry’s Irish sister city to have Irish school students interview Derry Village students about the potato, as the ripple effect of a class project continues to expand.