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Students Make Government Connection at Purchase

Thousands of middle school students met with Assemblyman Robert Castelli and Congresswoman Nita Lowey Tuesday morning at the SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center.

From the cost of college to how to reduce the region's tax rate, middle school students had some very grown up questions for two of the area's elected officials at the SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center Tuesday morning.

About 1,000 students attended a question-and-answer session with Assemblyman Robert Castelli and Congresswoman Nita Lowey. Students also attended a performance of the show "Vote?” the story of an 18-year-old woman finding the value of her vote.

Organizers hope the students left a little more excited about their future role in government.

"We wanted to do a lot of talk about advocacy, what people can do," said Ian Driver, president of educational outreach at the Purchase Performing Arts Center.

Lowey and Castelli discussed the importance of public service and voting, as well as the role of government in everyday life. Students asked a wide range of pre-approved questions about campaign finance reform, the future of public education in New York State and how each intends to keep taxes under control.

"I think they were very good, obviously very intelligent young people," said Castelli. "They were very thought-provoking questions and I hope our answers were equally thought-provoking."

Each official supported campaign finance reform and spoke out against the Electoral College, saying it's time for change at the federal level.

When it came to taxes, both officials said they have been working to keep spending in check, but reminded students that money invested in government does serve a purpose.

"Just remember something, when you pay your taxes you are providing a service to your community," Lowey said.

"At the end of the day, we want to make sure we have a fair tax policy," Castelli added.

Other topics were more broad and educational in nature, as Castelli and Lowey discussed how votes are cast and what inspires them while working in office.

Students in attendance were from eight area middle schools including The Chapel School in Bronxville, Scarsdale Middle School, Port Chester Middle School and Solomon Schechter School in Hartsdale.

Although it will be a few years before any of the students are eligible to vote, Lowey said it's never to early for the types of lessons learned Tuesday.

"We have to do more and more of this in our schools because the fact that 50 percent of people don't vote is disgraceful," Lowey said.

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