Grizzell teacher provides driving force for bullfrog license plates

Sarah Sole
ThisWeek group
Grizzell Middle School teachers Shawn Kaeser (left) and Todd Arnold stand in the school courtyard with a frog statue purchased by the Grizzell parent-teacher organization in 2010 in recognition of Dublin City Schools students' efforts in making the bullfrog the state frog. Kaeser is holding a mockup of how a new state license plate with the bullfrog might look, and Arnold is holding a print of the digital sketch he made for use on the plate.

If you begin to see bullfrogs hopping onto license plates around the state, credit students and a teacher from Dublin's Grizzell Middle School.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Oct. 22 signed Senate Bill 163 into law. In addition to prorating hybrid- and electric-vehicle-licensing rates, it created 33 specialty license plates – one of which features the bullfrog.

Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) said the bill originally was intended to create a plate for awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but it was amended to include many other license-plate designs from constituents across the state.

Some of those constituents were Dublin City Schools students.

It was the culmination of a project started 18 years ago by Grizzell students to earn the unassuming amphibian some state recognition.  

Shawn Kaeser, an eighth-grade social-studies teacher at Grizzell, said the idea for having the bullfrog become a state symbol began in 2002, when he was teaching his class about state symbols and realized an amphibian wasn’t on the list.

Animals recognized as state symbols – think the cardinal or white-tailed deer – are recognizable by name and found across the state, Kaeser said.

The students thought the bullfrog and the toad were amphibians that met the criteria for name recognition and presence in the 88 counties, he said. Because they thought toads had too much negative baggage, they decided to champion the bullfrog as a state symbol, he said.

Thus began an eight-year journey of calling and writing letters to state representatives and senators, Kaeser said.

The work of several classes of middle school students paid off in compromise of sorts.

In 2010, Gov. Ted Strickland signed a bill into law making the bullfrog the state frog, Kaeser said. The spotted salamander, introduced by students from a school near Cleveland, became state amphibian.

Two years later, another group of students got the wheels turning on the license-plate project, which now has come to fruition.

Kaeser said he had wanted the frog on the state license plate from the beginning.  

“I was just looking for the right time to do it,” he said.

The 10-year anniversary of getting the bullfrog recognized as state frog was appropriate, he said.

More Grizzell Middle School students followed in the footsteps of their predecessors, rallying government representatives to get behind their cause.  

In the summer of 2019, Kunze sponsored the bill to add the bullfrog as an option for state license plates, Kaeser said.

Funds from any plate purchases will go toward wetland conservation and education across the state, he said. The law will go into effect 90 days after DeWine's Oct. 22 signing, he said, and the plates should be available in the spring.

“Every law was an idea at one time,” he said.

The goal of the project was to help students understand how a bill becomes a law, Kaeser said. But the funding from the plate purchases should help the environment and educate more students across the state, he said.

Kaeser said he hopes his former students see the frog on license plates and remember that they helped bring about the amphibian’s recognition.

“It will bring back fond memories,” he said.

Dalton Miller, who was in Kaeser's eighth-grade social-studies class in 2009, said Kaeser made government come alive.

The 24-year-old Columbus resident, who serves as an executive assistant in Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose's office, said Kaeser and former teacher Lori Davis, who now is deceased, had a “dramatic” effect on his career choice.

“They’re 95% of the reason I’m doing the stuff I do today,” he said.

Miller said he remembers visiting the Statehouse for the first time with Kaeser, listening to members of the state legislature asking fairly serious questions about the bullfrog.

Now he plans to get the frog license plate when it becomes available, he said.

“I think I have to," he said. "I feel obligated."

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah