Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

Today’s Sunbeam – Local middle school students put Third District legislators on the spot Wednesday morning, asking them questions about current events and government.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Deputy Speaker John J. Burzichelli visited Woodstown Middle School to interact with more than 200 students as part of the annual National Legislators Go Back to School Program.

“We all have our roles. We represent the public, your families and you,” Burzichelli told the crowd of students.

The program is sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures in an effort to promote knowledge of the democratic processes to young students through state legislators.

Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional School District Superintendent Tom Coleman the morning was a very valuable experience for the students and a great example of the essence of public service.

“I believe it is a great opportunity for our young people to be given an intimate perspective on how our representative form of government functions close up and real time by the individuals who are our elected practitioners,” Coleman said.

After a brief introduction of what legislators do, students and teachers applauded loudly, welcoming them with excitement.

“Our government is here with us today and that is a big deal,” student Sara Reed, 13, said.

Students lined up and took turns standing at two microphones and reading their questions for the government officials.

Skye O’Connell, 13, asked about what the state can do to prevent drug and alcohol abuse in schools.

“Don’t be a follower. You’re going to get pressured in life — you can say no. You have something special, don’t ruin it,” Sweeney advised the students.

Burzichelli also emphasized the importance of education about drugs and alcohol.

“Drug and alcohol abuse is difficult for the whole society. Understanding what these things do to you, that drugs will hurt you is why we spend resources, money and time in education programs,” the deputy speaker said.

Sixth-grader Joseph Houser, 12, questioned the legislators about special education and its importance.

Sweeney shared about the 2010 law barring the use of the word retarded.

“I ran for office because I didn’t like the way people with disabilities were treated. We stop using words like that because words matter,” Sweeney said emphasizing a need to promote and strengthen special education.

Students also inquired about other topics such as: why farmland preservation and agriculture tourism is important, and protecting children from perpetrators.

For student Nick Sorantino, 13, the importance of selecting the right college major was on his mind.

Sorantino asked both Burzichelli and Sweeney what their college majors were. The two state officials responded that they did not have college training and it crucial for students to get a higher education.

“They can’t take education away from you or your degree from you,” Sweeney said.

Burzichelli added that he would have benefited from college to help him faster advance in his career.

“There is no exchange for education,” Burzichelli said.

The hour of Q-and-A was wrapped with a thanks from the state representatives.

“Our most gratifying successes are things that affect the people we serve,” Burzichelli said.

Third District representatives also plan on attending Quinton Township School on Friday.

District Offices

Gloucester County

Kingsway Commons
935 Kings Highway, Suite 400
West Deptford, NJ 08086
Phone: (856) 251-9801
Fax: (856) 251-9752

Salem/Cumberland Counties

The Finlaw Building
199 East Broadway, Suite G
Salem, NJ 08079
Phone: (856) 339-0808 or
             (856) 455-1011
Fax: (856) 339-9626