On Jan. 12, middle school students from St. Dominic’s, in Oyster Bay, were treated to a guest speaker, Legislator Josh Lafazan. He was invited by Principal Ronald Martorelli, of the elementary school, to speak to students about citizenship.
St. Dominic’s recently added a new course for its sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders called Citizenship. “The idea is that you help them know what it means to be an informed and participating citizen,” Martorelli said. “Our eighth-graders will be voting in four years, so we want them to start thinking in those terms, and I thought this was a great idea for [Lafazan] to come down and meet with them.”
Lafazan introduced himself to the students and quizzed them on what they believed were the duties of a legislator. He then explained that laws passed by local politicians have more impact on their daily lives than those of the federal government.
He gave the students a bit of background about his experience in local politics, which began when he ran for Syosset School District’s Board of Education five years ago — at age 18.
“When I first ran for office, adults didn’t really like it that much,” he said. “They called me too young, too inexperienced, too immature, but who knows what students need more than a student themselves? That’s the message I want you to take with you today.”
Lafazan expressed his own fear of reaching out to legislators when he was in middle school, simply because he knew politicians wouldn’t spend time on a kid. “Politicians will often look at a person and invest time in them if they have two things, money or influence,” he said. “I hated that, because to this day, politicians will look right by me because they’ll think I’m a kid, and then when they find out I’m a legislator, they’ll do a one-eighty.”
He reiterated that a major reason he took a run at the Legislature was to give voice to those who didn’t have one. “Nothing gives me greater joy than that,” he said. “Millennials are the largest demographic in Nassau County and many of us can’t vote, and just because we can’t vote doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to influence the political process. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to reach our representatives.”
Lafazan delivered on his promise to keep in touch with his constituents, doling out business cards to make sure the students had the opportunity to give their advice and suggestions to him, and see their ideas fulfilled.
“I was very honored to have somebody that was actually involved in politics come to speak with us,” said Kornel Toth, a sixth-grader from Huntington.
Kornel said he believed it was important that the legislator came to encourage him and his peers. “It’s important because a lot of people think they can be too young to do something, but he just said it perfectly, that nobody is too young to do anything.”
Lafazan then took questions from the students, who picked his brain on topics such as the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, impactful legislation he has introduced and his opinion of President Trump.
The Winter Games would be an opportunity, he said, to ease tensions in the region, and he went on to discuss a policy he formulated while on the school board, which recognized Diwali, Eid al-Adha, Eid Al-Fitr and the Hindu Lunar New Year in the school calendar, making Syosset the first public school district on Long Island to do so.
He also discussed his first policy plan as legislator of the 18th District, which includes prevention programs to combat the opioid epidemic in Nassau County. As far as Trump was concerned, he said politicians would get a lot further if they treated one another as adults, with reverence for one another. “That’s how diplomacy should work, not on Twitter, but in a room,” Lafazan said.
The legislator applauded the St. Dom’s community for integrating citizenship into its curriculum. “We’re not throwing them out into the world of civics, but we’re teaching them how to delineate fake news from real news, how to get involved in politics, how to research a candidate,” Lafazan said. “It’s just a game changer.”
He added, “We’re very good on Long Island in developing really good students, but what we’re not doing a proficient job at on the macro level is preparing good citizens who are the future of this country.”
Lafazan said nothing makes him happier than meeting with his constituents, such as those — particularly students — who require attentive ears when no one else is willing to listen. “This is the best part of my job,” he said.