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Massena students learn lessons in local government

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MASSENA - When Madeline Thibault grows up, she would like to become a primary care practitioner.

But after serving as acting village mayor for the day - giving James F. Hidy a rest - she said she’d consider a stint of public service on the side too.

“Being a mayor would keep me in touch with being a part of my community,” Ms. Thibault said. “I like having a role instead of hanging back.”

Ms. Thibault was one of approximately 20 J.W. Leary eighth graders who participated Wednesday in “Elks Student Government Day,” a Massena tradition stretching back decades.

The students toured the town and village offices, courts, museum, rescue squad and the police and fire departments. They also met with elected officials like Mr. Hidy and Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, and ended the morning with a luncheon at the Elk’s Club.

At the luncheon, Ms. Thibault and Acting Supervisor Abby C. LaClair gave speeches about the importance of local government.

“In the absence of local government, we would not be a community,” Ms. Thibault told fellow eighth graders and the town and village employees who gathered for the luncheon. “We would be a bunch of people living in Northern New York.”

“Without the services provided by the police force, the fire department, and the village employees, we wouldn’t have a stable, reliable community,” Ms. LaClair said. “The crime rate would be intolerable, homes and buildings wouldn’t be safe, and without our local government, things would be in chaos.”

Local government provides something the federal government does not, Ms. LaClair said.

“Small towns need local governments to guide their communities and give an opportunity for citizens’ voices to be heard,” she said.

Afterward, Ms. LaClair said she did not know a lot about Massena government before Wednesday.

“It was a good educational experience. I learned a lot,” she said.

The day allows the students to see how much local government provides in their daily lives, according to Dak Zaza, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at J.W. Leary. State curriculum does not provide much room for teachers during the year to discuss town and village government, so Wednesday’s events were welcome, he said.

“They can really get an idea, a little taste, of what their local government really does,” he said.

Chuck W. Sears, loyal knight at the Elks, said the organization looks forward to hosting the luncheon each year.

“It’s a reward to the kids for a year of hard work,” he said.

Mr. Hidy urged the students to remember Massena wherever they go in life.

“There’s a lot of pride about being from Massena and the north country,” he said. “Always remember your roots. There’s great pride and a lot of history in this community.”

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