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Ed Turbin pours the cooked fudge into a pan on the marble-slabs, as Todd Callewaert, president of Ryba's Fudge Shops, helps hold the pan. Photos by Renee Landuyt

Sen. Bert Johnson, pictured above folding fudge during a demonstration at Defer Elementary School, has supported the Defer students' request to name Mackinac Island fudge Michigan's offi cial sweet. photo by Renee Landuyt.
December 12, 2013
Representatives from Ryba's Fudge Shops joined Sen. Bert Johnson at Defer Elementary School last Friday for a fudge-making demonstration and to lend support to proposed legislation to make Mackinac Island fudge Michigan's official sweet.

Ryba's fudge is a Michigan-based company with shops on Mackinac Island. Les Parrish, Ed Turbin and Ryba's president Todd Callewaert were present Friday, equipped with marble slabs, vat and, of course, fudge, to pay tribute to the students in Kari Mannino's 4/5-grade magnet class who wrote letters to Johnson requesting the legislation.

Johnson also spoke to students about their importance in the legislative process and in government matters as a whole. It's because of the student letters, in particular, the one written by Luke Srebernak, Hayden Barry and Jake McBride, that Senate Bill 571 is in consideration.

"I think every student left his speech that day feeling like they, too, could make a difference, even though only the one letter was chosen," said Mannino, who took a suggestion from colleague Trish Gout about having students write to local representatives — Gout's students engaged in a similar lesson last year — and applied it to a social studies lesson.

For the lesson, Mannino's students studied current Michigan symbols and products, as well as the process of a bill becoming a law.

Using the set of 16 iPads Mannino received last year through a grant from the Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education, her students researched several state brands and products created in Michigan.

They looked into things like the creation and economical impact of Vernors and Faygo, automobile companies, Kellogg's and Mackinac fudge and were given the assignment to write a letter persuading the senator to present the bill for vote.

"Every student worked hard and all of their letters were well researched, persuasive, and grammatically/mechanically accurate," Mannino said. "The goal is to encourage our students to be proactive citizens as adults. Through the process, they were able to see the impact of being proactive."

Little did Mannino know of the exact impact her students were about to have. She never anticipated the kind of response students have received from Johnson and now Ryba's Fudge.

"Defer Elementary was extremely grateful to Sen. Johnson for helping our students realize their ideas and hard work can make a difference in the world," Mannino said. "To have Ryba Fudge and Sen. Johnson in our building, acknowledging the hard work of these students was amazing and truly appreciated. It was a day they will never forget."

The experience isn't ending just yet for the students. Johnson and staff invited Mannino's class to Lansing to present Senate Bill 571 on the floor of the Senate. There, Berry, Srebernak and McBride will speak about the bill as the rest of the class experiences the process of a bill becoming a law.

"They know it may not pass, but anticipation is high," Mannino said. "As an educator, the whole experience is a dream come true."

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