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Backstory: Cherry picking as civics lesson

Some inner-city kids haven't even tasted a cherry, but if George Washington chopped a cherry tree, it's 'official' for them.

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Tucked in a classroom of a nondescript public school building in the impoverished southwest section of town, Terry Bunton's gang of 13 is plotting to shake up the nation's capital. OK, maybe not a total makeover, but an image tweak.

The kids want to make the cherry the official fruit of the District of Columbia. Never mind that Washington produces political stars, not fruit, or that Utah picked the cherry a decade ago, and that some fourth-graders in Michigan are lobbying their state for the same fruit designation now.

But there's evidence to support the proposal the D.C. students insist: George Washington allegedly chopped down a cherry tree, and the district is host to the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which celebrates the more than 3,700 nonfruit-bearing Japanese cherry trees that bloom in screaming pink around the tidal basin.

For months, the cherry has been the focus of these rambunctious fourth- to sixth-graders. They've used all the tools of the political trade: They drafted a resolution, created a website (, testified before the city council, and lobbied their case in the media.

The resolution is expected to come to a vote this spring, Mr. Bunton says. This is an achievement for a special-needs class that doesn't remember doing anything this fun. It's also an eye-opener for disadvantaged students, some of whom believed they lived in a city called Southwest while others couldn't identify the white dome visible from their second-story class window (it's the US Capitol).

The campaign is also an achievement for Bunton, who wants to teach disadvantaged children about political empowerment. Bunton, whose students place him somewhere between 17 and 100 years old, started teaching at Bowen Elementary School two years ago after quitting his medical sales job which, he says, netted him more money but a lot less fulfillment. He's found the meaning he was missing: "A couple of times a day a child hugs you. Where else do you get that?"


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