Although Student Government Day has been a tradition in Hudson County for decades, over the last few years students who attend county schools have taken the ritual to heart, turning it into a serious discussion about issues that include school funding , traffic light cameras and prisoner reentry programs.
This year on April 11 the students took their role so seriously they ran out of time before they could get through their whole agenda.
Students posing as county officials gathered for a mock meeting of the Board of Freeholders. One issue discussed was the new Schools of Technology campus, due to open in September in Secaucus. Like their adult counterparts in municipal councils throughout the county, the students also grappled with the validity of bicycle lanes.
“This was a great experience and I’m sorry I won’t be able to do it again.” – Gerard Bello
A new experience for most
For most of the students this year, who came from nearly every town in Hudson County, this new experience was about learning government from the inside.
For Gerard Bello, a resident of Jersey City Heights and a student at County Prep, this was his third year taking part in the annual event. Two years ago, he served as vice chair, last year as chair, this year as the clerk to the board.
“This was a great experience, and I’m sorry I won’t be able to do it again,” he said. He will be graduating this year and has been accepted to Seton Hall University.
Most of the students came to the event without expectations, such as Himani Patel, a Jersey City resident who attends High Tech High School.
“I wanted to see how it goes,” he said.
Amy Abdalla, a resident of Bayonne, served as chair. This was her first year, and for most of the meeting she tried to keep the student freeholder board on track, often asking students playing roles as directors to provide studies, guidelines, and other information on which the board could make informed decisions.
Daisy Gonzalez of Union City took a very active role in a number of discussions, despite the fact that this was her first year as a student freeholder. She was part of several of the more heated debates with other freeholders, giving the meeting a bit of energy.
Another active participant was Secaucus resident Leyla Housein, who had strong opinions on bicycle lanes and red light cameras.
For the most part, students represented the towns they lived in, such as Hank Portney, who filled the seat of Jersey City Freeholder Bill O’Dea. April Kibalo held the seat of Jersey City Freeholder Gerard Balmir.
Not quite as heated as in past years, the students appeared to take sides on the issues, and to defend their positions more vehemently.
For John Roberts of Bayonne this was a return engagement. Last year he filled in the role as county sheriff. This year he served as county clerk. A student at High Tech, he requested last year to become sheriff because he intended to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Jaimini Patel of Jersey City had the hardest job, serving as county administer and often called on to provide information for the freeholders.
Alex Becerril of Bayonne served as chief of staff to the county executive.
“This is my first year,” he said. “I learned a lot, and got some ideas.”
According to county government officials working hand in hand with the students, Student Government Day allows students to actually perform duties and become involved in discussions that affect their lives. The students struggle with real issues, developing an agenda of items that are of interest to them, usually after doing their own research.
A full plate
The Hudson County School of Technology, commonly called High Tech, has two locations in Hudson County, one in North Bergen and one in Jersey City, although the North Bergen facility is slated to close in June.
Students will attend a new campus in Secaucus in September. County Prep High School is located in Jersey City. Students involved in this year’s program came from Jersey City, North Bergen, Bayonne, West New York, Union City and other municipalities.
Other students took part in the event include Gianella, Keane Postero, Elijah Ramos, Kanishaka Uppal, Ashley Crespo, Nancy Diaz, Joshua Vazquez, and Danny Mota.
While the meeting also included some of the adult officials who advised their junior counterparts on various issues, most notable was Commissioner Cosmo A. Cirillo, who himself had served as a student government official when he attended county schools.
He said this experience is what made him want to become an elected official
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.