Thursday, 21 March 2024 14:27

Lake Avenue Students Host Q&A with Congressman Tonko; Library of Congress Books Delivered to School Library

Photo: Paul Tonko speaking to students and answering their questions at Lake Avenue Elementary School in Saratoga Springs on March 14, 2024. Photo by Thomas Dimopoulos. Photo: Paul Tonko speaking to students and answering their questions at Lake Avenue Elementary School in Saratoga Springs on March 14, 2024. Photo by Thomas Dimopoulos.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Let the record show: on a late weekday afternoon of an Election Year, when the American tradition of campaign mudslinging will surely rise to present itself once again, decency prevailed in a century-old brick building on Lake Avenue where fifth-grade students assembled in the elementary school library to dialogue with Congressman Paul Tonko. 

“Words matter,” the congressman said to the students, arriving on Lake Avenue in a white Jeep SUV to deliver more than three dozen books to the school library, their pages filled with the words carefully selected by authors, he explained. 

“Our exercise every day is to choose words that help, and not hurt. Words that lift and don’t pull down,  that bring us together and unite, rather than divide. These authors had to painfully work on every word,” Tonko said. “They’re teaching us by their work that words matter, that they’re important and we should choose them deliberately in a kind expression of who we are.” 

Lake Avenue Elementary School serves about 400 students, grade K through 5. More than 60 of them gathered upstairs in the library, joined by school Principal Elizabeth Carroll, District Superintendent of Schools Michael Patton, School Resource Officer Aaron Moore and school educators and staff. 

“We all have gifts, and your teachers are great friends to you because they allow you to discover what your own gifts are,” Tonko said. “We all have different gifts and the exercise in the classroom is to have you discover, through education, who you are and what gifts you’ve been granted.” 

The 40 books delivered are among a stock of duplicate titles that arrived at the Library of Congress which are offered to members of Congress to bring to educational institutions or organizations that focus on reading. 

The Library of Congress, located in Washington, D.C., holds 164 million items on 840 miles of bookshelves that count as the single most comprehensive accumulation of human expression ever assembled, as well as the largest library in the world. 

This month’s transport of titles marks Tonko’s 78th delivery of surplus books through the program, with more than 2,500 books valued at over $50,000 delivered to local schools and organizations since 2017. 

“What’s your favorite book?” asked one student, whose name is McKinley. 

“’Silent Spring,’ by Rachel Parsons, because she ignited the spirit of taking care of the earth,” answered Tonko. 

“Who are your inspirations?” asked another. 

“JFK, MLK, RFK.” 

A student named Olivia asked Tonko to name his favorite thing about being in the House of Representatives. 

“I’m able to make changes or develop laws that affect people I may never meet - making life better for everyone,” he replied. 

The students were provided a 25-minute Q & A session with the congressman. Their questions ranged from “How did you get started on your career path?” to “What are your greatest accomplishments?” 

Successfully passing mental health parity was named by Tonko among his accomplishments, as well as dealing with the issues of mental health and addiction affecting people. “Trying to do legislation that will help people, enable them to survive that struggle to come out of it stronger and to have a good life,” he said. 

“How do you manage the most stressful parts of your job?” one student wanted to know.

“Probably by eating ice cream, and enjoying the outdoors. My favorite flavor ice cream? Coffee.”

Tonko thanked the staff for inviting him to the school and the students for paying him their attention. “I also hope you saw me paying attention to you. Paying attention is showing respect. And we need a whole lot of respect. It’s the way to maintain a civil society. We can disagree but we need to be civil,” he said. “If there is any message I can leave with you today, it’s to promote love, kindness and compassion, and don’t use the words that divide and hurt or put down and divide.” 

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