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Washington County students serve, learn as General Assembly pages

March 26, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County legislative pages
Washington County legislative pages

ANNAPOLIS — Four Washington County high school students had supporting roles in keeping the wheels of state government turning in recent weeks. Each spent two weeks as a Maryland General Assembly page.

Valerie Downs of Williamsport, a senior home-schooled through Broadfording Christian Academy, was in the House of Delegates during the legislature’s opening week in January and returned for a second week at the end of February.

“I have been interested in political science for a while now, and this way I can see it firsthand,” she said.

Smithsburg High School seniors Kaylyn Fox, Austin Knode and Sarah Stayer were together in Annapolis for their second week, March 5 to 9. Fox and Knode were in the House; Stayer was in the Senate.

Pages run errands for legislators, such as retrieving copies or getting coffee or water. They deliver messages and keep books listing pending bills up to date.

When a contentious issue is debated, they spring into action to distribute legislators’ proposed amendments.

“Basically, we’re just little helpers,” Stayer said.

A pamphlet summarizing Maryland’s program says it started in 1970. Each year, 105 pages and 36 alternates are chosen from schools and counties across the state. Each county gets at least one page.

Pages must show an interest in government and history, and have a good record of conduct and academics, the program pamphlet says. They must be competent, courteous, reliable, efficient and outgoing.

They get $50 for each day they work, but pay for lodging ($22 a night if arranged by the legislature’s Page Office) and meals.

Pages are encouraged to talk with legislators.

Downs said she chatted with the two men who represent her area, Del. Andrew A. Serafini and Sen. Christopher B. Shank.

“They’re both very, very cool guys,” she said.

During Senate sessions, Stayer said, pages heard from Sen. Jennie Forehand of Montgomery County on the Democratic side of the chamber and Sen. Allan H. Kittleman of Howard and Carroll counties on the Republican side.

Through floor debate, pages heard multiple elements of complicated issues.

“There are more than just two perspectives,” Stayer said. “It’s not just black and white.”

Coming in, Downs said, her perception was that “the delegates would be yelling at each other. But it’s actually much more civil.”

“I find it more interesting than national politics,” Fox said.

Some pages also sat in on bill hearings in House and Senate committees.

Fox said she heard bills related to sex offenders and proposing a repeal of the state’s death penalty.

Knode sat in on a bill hearing on concerns about mistaken identities in police lineups.

Stayer heard a bill on wrongful convictions, including the testimony of a man who went to prison after he was wrongly convicted of murder.

Knode said the experience expanded the students’ knowledge of state government, beyond the basics and the headline-grabbing issues, such as same-sex marriage or the gas tax. It was surprising to see how much of the legislative work happens in committees, he said.

Stayer plans to take pre-med classes at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, maybe with a minor in political science. She is interested in emergency medicine.

Fox hopes to become an engineer. She is considering the University of Maryland and the University of Alabama.

Knode wants to major in accounting at either Salisbury University or West Virginia University. He said he might like to run for office after finishing college and establishing a career, although he’s not sure at which level of government it would be.

Downs is considering studying journalism — possibly political journalism — at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va.

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