Sponsored by the National Conference of state Legislatures, the events are part of nationally run America's Legislators Back to School Program, which is designed to teach young people what it's like to be a state legislator, including the processes and the pressures.
The program kicks off the third week of every September and runs throughout the school year. Every year more than 1,300 state lawmakers visit an estimated 320,000 students in their classrooms.
Really getting into the spirit last month was 33rd District Assemblyman and West New York Mayor Silverio "Sal" Vega, who visited all the West New York district schools from the elementary to the high school levels, and shared some information with the kids.
"For me, this is where I feel the most comfortable," said Vega. "I want [students] to know at every level that success is in their own hands, and you are never too young to say this is where I want to be."
On his final stop to Public School No. 3 on Wednesday, Oct. 31, - yes Halloween - Vega had a little surprise in store for the students. Even the mayor finds the time to get dressed up on Halloween!
Hello Mr. President!
Donning his finest top hat and finely trimmed beard, it was none other than America's 16th President, Abraham Lincoln that stepped into the auditorium of No. 3 School.
Some of the kids even took to speaking to Mayor Vega's presidential persona.
"You actually addressed me as the president, I like that," said Vega jokingly to one of the students.
"It was fun and I like that he came dressed up," said Jalisa Valladares, 11.
After giving a little history about his own beginnings in West New York, and how he became a mayor and an assemblyman, Vega took the time to field various questions from the student body.
"It was quite funny and entertaining, and I loved the part where he shared a little history," said David Padilla, 11. "I think it's pretty heroic [being the mayor], and I [like looking up] to him."
"The event was fabulous and he is just such a great inspiration for the children of this town," said Principal Claire Warnock. "[Mayor Vega] is a product of the West New York school system, and [an example] that you can be successful here."
"It's been a great experience, and I have shaped my [presentation] depending on the age group," said Vega. "The students at the elementary schools have all been very interested about all the issues concerning the town, and have asked very interesting questions."
Q&A with Mayor Vega
One student asked how being the mayor affects his life.
"I'm pretty disciplined," said Vega. "I still get up and go running, and now the rest of my day is longer and I don't eat as healthy. Sometimes I forget to have lunch or dinner, but other than that I'm holding up."
Another student asked Vega why he became mayor, and his response sparked laughter among the students.
"You want the truth," asked Vega. "Can you handle the truth? Nobody wanted the job!"
"When I ran I was unopposed," he added. "People said, 'let him have a chance.'"
Vega also responded to a question about where he gets the money to run the municipality.
"We are responsible for many things, including the school system," said Vega.
Vega explained how West New York is one of the state's special need districts and faces many challenges that other mostly suburban school districts don't face. Some of those challenges include having a large population, where English is the second language.
"Most of our money comes from the state and little bit from the tax payers - the people who live in West New York," said Vega. "As mayor, you have to be very careful that you don't spend more than you need. If you spend too much, the citizens get very mad, and I may have 100 opponents [in the next election]."
One of the final questions to Vega was at what age did he start to dream about becoming the mayor.
Vega said the idea of going into public service first dawned on him at his eighth grade graduation, where newly elected Mayor Anthony DeFino came to give the commencement speech.
"His message was a lot like mine," said Vega. "Be successful and do well in school. After you reach your dreams come back to West New York and make West New York a better town. For the first time I [understood] how important it is to give back, and you can give back through public service."
For more information about the America's Legislators Back to School Program call (303) 364-7700 or send an e-mail to BTSP@ncsl.org.
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