Like Charlie Brown on Halloween, Illinois got a rock, thanks to students at Pleasantdale Middle School in Burr Ridge — an official state rock.

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You can thank Pleasantdale Middle School fifth graders for making sure Illinois had an official state rock. And you can also thank them for making sure coal was not chosen for said state rock.

Yes, coal was in the running, according to now sixth grader Matej Naunov.

“One of our main reasons as to why coal was dropped was because you get coal on Christmas when you’re not good,” he said matter-of-factly.

Pleasantdale teacher Jennifer Lauermann’s former students sat in the school’s music room recently, remembering their advocacy efforts to get a bill on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk designating a state rock, a goal they achieved as a group during the pandemic. The youths are now waiting for Pritzker’s signature to make dolostone as the official rock of the state of Illinois.

Pleasantdale Middle School teacher Jennifer Lauermann and her fifth grade students look over an assortment of rocks at Pleasantdale Middle School in Burr Ridge on May 20, 2022. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Dolostone, one of the most common rocks in Illinois, provides valuable nutrients to the soil. It’s also a great building resource and comprises most of the bedrock of northern Illinois. Per student research, dolostone was the cause of a major mineral rush in Galena, Illinois, in the early 1800s, the site of one of the first large geologic expeditions in the nation.

What started as a geology unit in Lauermann’s fifth-grade science class grew into a movement of sorts that spanned the entire Burr Ridge school, other school districts, geology professors, gem clubs, rock enthusiasts/collectors and geologists. And to think it all started years ago, when Lauermann said she had students wanting to name a state spider. But that fizzled.

“It was because of that group years ago, that made me really look at our state symbols,” Lauermann said. Then during the 2020-21 school year, her fifth graders started talking about symbols and discovered Illinois didn’t have a rock.

That got the group of 26 students thinking and researching. During their work, the group interviewed people who work in the field and sent out emails to local geology experts. Lauermann said the students welcomed their input because they didn’t want to choose the rock without the advice of experts. Lauermann said the selected rocks had to represent Illinois, which meant “it’s easily found in Illinois. And a lot of people use it,” said student Stephan Nikolic. The class started with 10 rocks and ultimately got it down to the final three — limestone, dolostone and sandstone.

The class then split up into three groups representing each rock, and made a case for each one. The campaigning was fierce. Lauermann created a website for the school’s endeavor, with details about each rock and a ballot for voting. Students told their parents, parents told friends and so on. Lauermann said the youths wrote 150 letters to state legislators to get any one of them on board with the push for a state rock. Naunov said the act of writing, printing, folding and stuffing envelopes took up some of the fifth graders’ recess time.

A dolostone rock is on display at Pleasantdale Middle School in Burr Ridge. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Signage was posted throughout the school, urging school staff and students to vote. With a state bird, insect, food, mineral and dance, how could Illinois not have a state rock? While dolostone was the smallest group, Lauermann said, dolostone was the winner with over 1,300 votes (over 50% of the vote) from myriad Illinois locations, including Chicago, Kenilworth, Rockford, Galena and Carbondale.

“We reached about 400 schools total,” Lauermann said. “The website had really colorful pictures and an essay to read. I don’t really know all the reasons why people voted dolostone, but many of them said they liked the way it looked. They liked that it’s underneath us, part of our bedrock. And I remember people said they liked dolostone because it’s in a lot of buildings. It’s very historical. It’s not a rock that we see everywhere. But it definitely represents Illinois.”

U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove heard about the rock project and brought it to the floor of the House.

“We’ve been told that once it gets signed, we’ll know and we’ll all celebrate that they’re a part of history,” Lauermann said. “They will have that memory and I will too.”

Lauermann said the students have already been recognized by the school board and when the state rock is official, she said the district superintendent wants to do some kind of rock monument or plaque. Lauermann added that parents have already expressed their gratitude for the project helping to lift kids up during the pandemic.

Pleasantdale Principal Griffin Sonntag said the 19-year Pleasantdale teacher made lemonade out of lemons.

“That’s the kind of teachers that we have here. She’s one of the best,” he said adding, “It’s great for the kids to see the fruits of their labor.”

Lauermann agreed.

“It was all about the research and the diligence,” Lauermann said. “You had to have a group of kids that really wanted something … if they didn’t want it, then it wouldn’t have happened. This was a very, very diligent, really interested motivated group of students that wanted this to work.”

Venture into Lauermann’s class and you can see her growing rock collection on the wall. Current and former students often will find unique rocks and give them to her — an arrowhead that looks like it’s carved from coal, a crystal from Tasmania and natural copper all sit on her wall.

Pleasantdale Middle School fifth graders look over an assortment of rocks at their school in Burr Ridge on May 20, 2022. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Before the sixth graders left to take part in their current science class, looking at tornadoes by way of leaf blower, they were asked if they were fans of science. Everyone said, not so much, including Jackson Hawbecker. But the students all agreed that Lauermann made science fun.

“Every year you just try to plant some little seed or interest in these kids,” Lauermann said. “And last year, we struggled. We came up with some innovative things in the school that tried to reach the kids, and that’s what this was.”

Curious about other state symbols?:

drockett@chicagotribune.com

via Chicago Tribune

May 27, 2022 at 04:42PM

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