To Laura Dixon, the great thing about being an American is having a voice.

Even if you're just a kid.

Even if you have to dissect a cat as part of a high school anatomy class.

Three years ago, as a freshman at Washington Township High School, she found herself testifying before the state Assembly's Education Committee on behalf of a bill to allow students to opt out of dissecting animals in school.

She was the only kid to testify amid a host of animal rights activists and groups opposed to the bill. She testified that other students would respect a decision to opt out of dissection.

It's not that she ever faced making that choice. Her courses in high school were more political; she is taking a lot of history, language and political science courses in pursuit of becoming a foreign relations specialist.

But she knows of many students who would "take a hit" for a marking period rather than dissect an animal.

"If you don't dissect you get an F," said Dixon, now a 17-year-old senior. "That affects your GPA, that affects getting into college. If you're not pursuing a medical field, why should you have to dissect?"

Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed the Student Choice Law in January, making New Jersey the ninth state to allow students and parents to use alternatives such as models and computer simulations.

Similar student choice laws are in place in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

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