WESTFIELD, NJ – Third graders at Jefferson Elementary School got a special visit from Mayor Andy Skibitsky Friday morning when he dropped in to listen to a group of students present their original ideas to better the town.
Two students, one boy and one girl, were chosen from each of the five third grade classes to read their essays that were written as part of the grade’s community improvement project.
In her essay, nine year-old Sarah Klemm suggested that town leaders map out part of an existing park and create a fenced-in dog park. Her idea was inspired by the book “Just Grace Walks The Dog,” in which the title character visits a dog park.
Klemm feels the creation of a dog park in Westfield is important “because people sometimes are allergic and afraid of dogs and you should have a special area for them to play,” she said later Friday.
Other student ideas included building a trolley running from Virginia Street into Downtown Westfield, developing a bike trail, collecting spare pennies to put towards the purchase of new playground equipment and pitching in to clean up local parks.
Skibitsky praised the students for the spirit of volunteerism that ran through many of their essays. He pointed out that residents enhance the quality of life in Westfield by giving their time to coach sports teams, working at their houses of worship or serving on a government board.
Skibitsky, who earns $1 a year as mayor and has a full time position at Merck’s animal health division, added that Westfield is fortunate to have good fire and police departments as well as top-notch schools and a solid tax base.
“You can’t solve every problem, but in Westfield we’re lucky in that our problems are relatively minor,” he said.
The mayor also took time to discuss the role of property taxes in funding local services, noting that the average tax bill in town is $14,000 and roughly 60 percent of taxes go to education. He encouraged the third graders to do well in school.
After the students finished reading their essays, Skibitsky, whose four children attended Jefferson, took questions from the audience.
“How much of these ideas are you going to do?” asked one pupil.
“I see you as a future reporter,” Skibitsky answered, chuckling, adding that he would take the ideas back to the town council.
Another student asked if it was fun being mayor.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Skibitsky, who is in his third term. “At times it’s hard. It’s hard telling people ‘no’ sometimes.”
Anna Carissimo, third grade teacher and coordinator of the community improvement study, was impressed with the students’ work.
“I thought they were all very unique, very well thought out,” she said. “Every year, they seem to come up with ideas that are actually happening.”