BELMAR, NJ — After spending several months learning about the workings of municipal government, four Belmar Elementary School students took their seats on the dais during the Belmar Council’s meeting earlier this week.
Serving as mayor, eighth-grader Julia Nicolay was joined by three council members — seventh-graders Helen Greco, John Wheeler and John Connolly.
And without a hitch, they followed parliamentary procedure in opening their “official” meeting — from the call to order, salute to the flag and moment of silence to the reading of the sunshine law statement and roll call.
“(The) youth government program gives students of Belmar Elementary the opportunity to express our opinions and give our thoughts about the towns of Belmar and Lake Como,” said Mayor Nicolay. “This year, our youth government mayor and council created ideas we feel will benefit the residents of Belmar.”
Then it was down to business as the governing body passed resolutions that included ridding borough parks of geese, calling for a communitywide celebration of Earth Day on April 22 and providing local news to students.
The four students were among 78 BES sixth- through eight-graders who participated in this year’s youth government program — whether as an elected official, borough employee or in a position at the school itself.
Students who served in elected posts learned about the political process by campaigning, giving speeches and serving in a mock election to serve on the governing body.
Other students got the opportunity to visit borough offices in both Belmar and Lake Como to see how a municipality operates — from the perspective of numerous key administrators or officials.
“We were very fortunate this year as many of the employees discussed their positions and provided the students with insights on their responsibilities and day-to-day activities,” said social studies teacher Sean McDonald, the program’s moderator. “They even got a chance to shadow borough employees for the morning. I am very grateful to all of them for generously donating their time. ”
Another group of participating students remained at Belmar Elementary School where they shadowed administrators, teachers and other faculty members, and interviewed them about their jobs and careers.
“From my conversations with all those who participated, I believe both the adults and students got a lot out of the experience,” McDonald said, adding that the benefits of this type of program for students are plentiful. “Platforms like youth government not only foster a bond between the school and community, but it additionally promotes service and civic participation."
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