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Valley Stream sixth-graders become mayors for a day

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Eleven-year-old Abdullah Chatta stood among piles of garbage wearing shiny brown dress shoes, and the odor from the trash was distinct and strong. So much so that Abdullah’s counterpart, Mishal Javed, 12, held the collar of her jacket over her nose.

The two were visiting the Village of Valley Stream’s Arlington Road waste transfer station facility on Feb. 18, after winning an essay contest among the neighborhood’s sixth-graders for a chance to become “mayor for a day.”

The competition has been around since 2012, when Mayor Ed Fare took office, and has given a select few students the opportunity to see first-hand village government and facilities, including its garbage disposal.

Abdullah and Mishal stood and watched with widened eyes as sanitation workers picked up the masses of solid waste using a heavy-duty loader and placed them in a bailer, which compacted the trash into cubes wrapped in plastic.

It was the second stop of the day. In addition to the transfer station, the children visited the mayor’s office at Village Hall, a village street, where they filled potholes, and the courthouse on Rockaway Avenue, as well as the Hendrickson Park playground, pool complex and community center.

“I learned where our trash goes when they throw it out,” Abdullah, a Wheeler Avenue student, said. “My favorite part of today was seeing how garbage is compressed.”

Mishal, a Clear Stream Avenue student, said her favorite part was watching a village tree-removal crew cut down branches, and learning about the maintenance that goes into keeping the village pool running.

“I learned that the mayor is responsible for a lot, like buildings, recreational spots and floral plants,” she said. “He is also responsible for making sure things run right, and for overseeing tickets and the courtroom.”

Each year, roughly four dozen sixth-graders from across Valley Stream submit written responses to questions to the Mayor for a Day contest for a chance to shadow Fare on a facilities tour. This year, Abdullah’s and Mishal’s essays stood out for the quality of their writing, Fare said.

“I’m all about education and communication, and this event is a great way to communicate with kids and to educate them about the village government,” he said. “After Mayor for a Day, the kids always realize there’s so many aspects to my job, and that it’s never boring.”

The students began their tour at 9 a.m. at Village Hall, where they introduced themselves and toured the mayor’s office and learned about the various Village Hall meetings and functions.

Then they sat in Fare’s vehicle — a white Chevrolet SUV — and took turns riding shotgun and talking over its two-way village radio, which Fare uses to communicate with village workers during the day.

When the children arrived at the transfer station, they were treated to doughnuts and coffee, and both received yellow sanitation worker vests, gloves and hardhats, which they were allowed to take home with them. In addition to watching the bailer at work, Abdullah and Mishal saw how Sanitation Department garbage trucks are weighed before unloading trash onto a large computerized scale for weighing.

At around 10:15 a.m., the children traveled to their next destination to meet a pothole crew at Washington Street and Arlington Avenue, where they filled a pothole with cold-patch asphalt. They watched as the crew prepared a hole, sweeping it before handing the kids shovels with which they deposited the rough, tarry substance. Afterward, sanitation workers drove over the patch to flatten it. 

“Cold patch is used in the winter because during the warmer months the asphalt companies for hot patch shut down,” Fare explained to the children as they watched. “Cold patch breaks up faster, but we can’t do nothing while waiting for spring, so that’s why we use cold patch during winter months and hot patch during summer months.”

The next stop was the village courthouse. Originally constructed in 1926, the building used to house Village Hall.

At around 11:15 a.m., the children arrived at the pool complex, where they received T-shirts and were shown the pool, now empty for the winter. Recreation Department workers explained how it is maintained.

At around 11:45 a.m., the children got into Fare’s SUV one last time and rode to the Community Center, where they reunited with their families and ate lunch.

“When I first found out that my son won an essay contest and the chance to meet the mayor, I was so excited that I told all my co-workers and bosses,” Abdullah’s father, Waqar, said. “This event gives kids the chance to know the system.”

“She had a great time and she learned a lot today,” Mishal’s older brother, Khuram, said. “Now she can take what she learned today and share with her classmates to encourage them.”