It’s hardly unusual for a busload of students to visit the State Capitol to see the Legislature at work.
But for 24 Cyber Academy seventh-graders and a handful of ninth-graders, their recent field trip to Santa Fe was far more than a sight-seeing excursion.
With the help of a program founded through the University of New Mexico School of Law about 20 years ago, the visit gave them a meaningful, hands-on experience about how laws are made in our state and the chance to “lobby” local lawmakers to adopt a measure they felt strongly about: toughening the state’s laws on poaching, the illegal catching or killing of animals.
The students connected with Wild Friends, which is described on the organization’s website as a “network of students, teachers and mentors who support wildlife and seek common-ground solutions to wildlife issues.”
As a project, the students researched the state’s poaching laws and listened to a presentation on the issue by the state Department of Game and Fish and learned that poaching is a widespread problem in New Mexico. Then, they drafted their own bill proposing to change the offense from a misdemeanor to a much more serious fourth-degree felony, with penalties that include up to 18 months in jail.
“Right now, poachers just get a slap on the wrist,” is how seventh-grader Dylan Martinez assessed the issue in an interview with a KOB-TV reporter.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a memorial calling attention to the harm caused by poaching and commending DGF for proposing stiffer penalties had passed the House. An identical measure in the Senate had gotten do-pass votes in two committees and was awaiting floor action.
Wild Friends has had previous successes working with students. Two years ago, it involved 10 schools and about 400 children in an effort that led to passage of a memorial, “Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights,” which recognizes the rights of children to have access to outdoor activities. It also called on the state to develop outdoor programs for children.
We aren’t prepared to venture an opinion ourselves on the poaching issue. But we certainly see great value in the exercise for students. In Santa Fe, they met local lawmakers, visited the governor’s office and got a behind-the-scenes look at the process involved before a bill becomes law. Students last year worked on DWI issues.
Of course, there’s much to be learned in the classroom, but the importance of experiencing what is taught in a real-life setting can’t be overstated.
Wild Friends should be commended for giving students that opportunity and the Cyber Academy is wise to take advantage. We’d hope schools throughout the state are finding similar ways to engage their students.