RAHWAY, NJ - ‘Experience,’ as the adage goes, is the best teacher. Its lessons, however, cannot always be learned in a classroom. Where can the student, eager to hone his or her skills as an effective leader, go to gain insight into the many varying responsibilities of different positions of leadership and effective ways of working with others to achieve a common goal? Rahway’s City Hall and its Board of Education offered an immediate and caring response. “Come to us.”
This generous invitation was eagerly accepted by 19 RHS students participating in the school’s “Leading By Example” seminar program. They were welcomed on June 12 by seven city officials and six school administrators, including both the Superintendent and the Assistant Superintendent, who allowed different students to ‘shadow’ them throughout the day so that they could gain first-hand knowledge of the myriad components involved in running either a school or a local community.
City Hall officials were enthusiastic about this opportunity for a variety of reasons both before and after working with the students. Rahway’s Director of Community Development Jacqueline Foushee, who oversees planning, zoning, the health departments, and who also serves as City Engineer, was very anxious to work with the students. She believes, “It’s important, as a female, to show young females OTHER females who are working successfully in non-traditional roles.” Ms. Foushee also found it important to explain how “the structure of government is key to understand how ‘politics’ works in private industry.” She is, however, quick to add that she profited as well from the experience of working with her students. “It reminds me to be aware of how I communicate with people who are not in the industry.”
Rahway City Clerk Rayna Harris thought it “a privilege to participate as a professional to be shadowed by the “Leaders For A Day” program with the Rahway High School students.” She adds, “Our youth is very important to our community and they deserve to know the inner workings of their local government and understand how each piece works together to give them access and provide them with municipal services.” Business Administrator Cherron Rountree found it “wonderful to see the bright future Rahway has.” She views programs such as this “important for students to see the many opportunities out there.”
Sophomore Jessmary Lora found working with Division of Planning Director Cynthia Solomon, “an experience like no other.” She was very thankful “to learn so much about not only Rahway, but also about the intricacies of how things are run.” Ms. Solomon, an RHS graduate herself, was “impressed with the poise and maturity of the students.” She was more than happy for the chance to “give something back.” Economic Development Specialist for the City, Anne Marie Williams, was also struck by how “adult and well-rounded” the students seemed. “They were prepared with questions and gave me the chance to learn what they liked to enjoy in the town. Part of my job is to listen and I learned a lot from them!”
As City Hall and the streets of Downtown Rahway were hosts to students and officials talking, exploring, listening , and learning, a more academic venue was on tap for other student leaders. For senior Cedric Price, “It was without a doubt one of the highlights of this year for me to spend a day with our superintendent, Dr. Camp. She planned a day that allowed me to participate in a meeting and see how a school district our size is run. I learned a little about what is in store for the district’s future and what it takes to execute a plan that provides several positive benefits for the students. You know something? She really CARES about the futures of her students.” Assistant Superintendent Christine Salcito graciously provided her “shadow” with the unique opportunity to accompany her on visits to some of the district’s elementary schools and to sit in on actual classes, while Academy Vice Principal Mary Hart walked students through navigating the ins and outs of a hectic day with 7th and 8th graders.
Around the corner, Tymek Jones was enjoying his chance to work with RHS Principal John Farinella and to be “his second hand man.” Throughout the day, Mr. Jones learned “so much about his job and about Mr. Farinella himself as a person. He’s a pretty outstanding principal!” Of course, the down side of shadowing the principal, laments Mr. Farinella, is that “so much of my job is confidential…I had to excuse myself on several occasions.”
Although the day ended with Mayoral Proclamations for all the student leaders at a City Council meeting, it was clear that, for the students, the recognition should not have stopped there. As Tymek Jones profoundly stated, “Yes, we got proclamations…but shouldn’t all the people who took the time to work with us get them too?”