The reason for this was simple - they were elected students from Emerson and Union Hill high schools who were participating in "Union City Career Day."
The program, co-run by the city and both high schools, was designed to give the students a hands-on experience in the workforce and to maybe get them interested in public service.
Applications were passed out in the city's high schools, and interested students are asked to choose from different offices within the city government. Students can choose from the Police Department (the most popular, according to city officials), the mayor's office, and the Office of Public Safety. Whichever they choose is where they work for the day.
Said one city official, "We try to place them where their interests are."
According to Union City spokesperson Gayle Kaufman, "We really want the kids to come away with the feeling that they know that this is their government. If they think the city needs something, they can come here. If the kids see something that can be corrected, they can come here and we'll work with them."
Last week, Kaufman acted as a "cruise director" of sorts, making sure all the students were where they needed to be, as many of them rotated from office to office.
Into the government
For many of the students, last week's Career Day was their first foray into the heart of city government. Some students seemed a bit overwhelmed, but there were exceptions.
Wilie Artiles, 18, a student at Union Hill, was participating in his second Career Day, and judging from his comments while working in the Public Affairs office, he knew what he wanted to do with his future. Artiles was quick to point out that the Career Day activities were very helpful in his decision-making process. Said Artiles, "This is my second year doing this. I am going to study political science next year at either Villanova or Hamilton College in upstate New York."
Continued Artiles, "Everyone's really helpful here (at the Career Day). It's basically all about 'you.' They really accommodate you. Whatever you want to see, they'll answer all your questions. Events like this really show how things work."
Emerson High School student Nabil Salim, 16, also seemed pretty sure what his future holds. Said Salim, who was assigned to the Detective Bureau, "I want to be a detective or in the FBI. I have an interest in investigating things." As for his opinion of the Career Day activities, Salim said, "It's pretty cool. I hope to get out of it knowing better what I want to do and the choices that are out there. It gives you an idea of what a job is all about."
Fellow Emerson student Paula Hernandez, 18, was similarly effusive about Career Day. Said Hernandez, "It's pretty good. I am learning a lot. The Police Department is way beyond what you think. They do so much here." Hernandez' decision to spend the day in the Detective Bureau stemmed directly from her future career plans. Said Hernandez, "I want to pursue forensics in the future."
And according to Union City Deputy Director of Public Affairs Lucio Fernandez, "I think this event helps them see how city government really operates. It removes the barriers between the government and the public." Added Fernandez, "Growing up, I thought City Hall was so distant, but it really isn't."
Of course, there were those students who weren't as sure about future career aspirations as others were. But that, according to city officials, is what makes the career day a success. It caters to both types of students: those who have a clear idea of future plans and those who may not be so sure.
Sixteen-year-old Emerson High School student Kristy Rodriquez fell into the latter category, but seemed hopeful that she would find something to pique her interest.
Said Rodriquez, "I am here to get a look at what it's all about. I am not sure exactly what I want to do, maybe political science or pre-med. This gives me a look at how things work."