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4th-graders take on governmental roles in special session

Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar looks over the

Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar looks over the shoulder of his student replacement for the day, Ryan Toohig, as Toohig runs the village's Board of Trustees meeting Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. Credit: David L. Pokress

Williston Park's governing body was unseated Saturday, their posts temporarily filled by some very small shoes.

As part of the "Village Official for a Day" program, six fourth-graders from Williston Park and Mineola who had won an essay contest were able to act as officials and sit in their chairs during a special 25-minute board meeting.

The real officials sat behind their young "representatives," coaching them on meeting etiquette and telling them how to vote. The students handled such matters as the reading of monthly reports, and they unanimously passed a resolution allowing auxiliary police to purchase a new vehicle.

Every fill-in board member also read aloud their winning essay on the meaning of "Together, We Can Make a Difference." They included ways residents can contribute to their community, such as helping the elderly cross streets, recycling, planting a vegetable garden that would yield free food for the needy, and asking drivers to follow traffic rules.

Nine-year-old Ryan Toohig, from Center Street School in Williston Park, stood in for Mayor Paul Ehrbar and started the proceedings with the mayor's report. He gave updates on road repairs, preparations for snow, and spoke about the progress of the cleanup at the site of a five-alarm fire that swept through a business district on Willis Avenue in July.

"That has been ongoing and should be completed soon," Ryan said of the cleanup.

After the meeting, Ryan said he could see himself becoming the real deal. "It was a little confusing, but I felt better and better as the meeting went on," he said.

Karen Hoffman, among the children's relatives in the audience, said she was surprised that her normally shy 8-year-old daughter, Brooke, seemed comfortable in trustee William Carr's chair. "I liked talking on the microphone," said Brooke, a pupil at St. Aidan School in Williston Park.

The other essay winners are: Mikoto Tsubo from the Center Street School, Michael Duda and James Desiderio from the Jackson Avenue School in Mineola, and Elizabeth Mignardi from St. Aidan School.

The program started about 10 years ago to help introduce young people to local government. At the end of the meeting the children received certificates from the board and gift certificates for Barnes & Noble.

"They all did an excellent job," Ehrbar said.

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