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Fourth graders help make cranberry juice the new state drink

Teacher Erin Zarzycki's Rush elementary students got ball rolling with letters to lawmakers

Photo courtesy of Erin Zarzycki
Teacher Erin Zarzycki and students from her previous classes visited the state capital in Trenton to have their voices heard.

The Garden State has an official drink – cranberry juice – thanks to students at Eleanor Rush Elementary School in Cinnaminson.

When people think of cranberries, they may think of New Jersey. One of the U.S.’s leading manufacturers of cranberries, Ocean Spray, uses the state to export crop for various products. But before this summer, New Jersey did not have an official drink.

That all changed because of a project undertaken by students of fourth grade Rush teacher Erin Zarzycki.

“[It is] 2019 when I first came up with the idea, because I realized it’s typically been fourth grade classes who have written to state legislators to have new state symbols passed,” thee teacher explained. “We looked up all the state symbols we didn’t have that some other states might have had, and we came up with the state juice idea.”

The students wrote to state Assemblywoman Carol Murphy to pitch the idea. They mentioned job creation, economic impact and the various health benefits associated with the cranberry in their letters.

Without hesitation, Murphy and her constituents immediately latched onto the idea, a bill was proposed and the students were invited to Trenton for an in-person presentation in 2020. But COVID delayed that, and the bill was put on the back burner.

“My class this past year said, ‘I know we got stalled there, but can we try to carry on this mission,'” Zarzycki recalled. “I said, ‘I would love that. Let’s do it!'”

Last year, her students once again emailed and sent letters to government officials, and the bill made it through the state assembly.

“We were so pumped about that,” Zarzycki said, noting she was in shock when the bill passed. “I didn’t have high hopes that it would go any further, but I continued the mission. They (students) were so excited about it, and then Ocean Spray reached out to us and congratulated us on what we accomplished. They sent the kids shirts and other things like that …

“The kids were all in.”

For their work and persistence, state officials invited Zarzycki and all her students to Trenton to give an in-person presentation on their idea. And in late July/early August, cranberry juice became the state’s official drink.

“I think the kids took great things away from this,” Zarzycki observed. “I asked them if anyone wanted to be part of the state assembly and a lot of them raised their hand. This is a cool thing. … They really did want to do it. They wanted to continue it on.

“It was perfect.”

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