Christian Life School’s Sydney Graham experiences government, up closeChristian Life School junior Sydney Graham probably knows more about the workings of the Minnesota Legislature than most Minnesotans. Come to think of it, she probably knows her way around the state capitol better than most, too.
By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent
Christian Life School junior Sydney Graham probably knows more about the workings of the Minnesota Legislature than most Minnesotans. Come to think of it, she probably knows her way around the state capitol better than most, too.
Graham just came back to CLS after spending a week in the halls of the Minnesota State Capitol as a member of the high school page program offered by the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Minnesota was the first state to implement a high school page program, according to House of Representatives education programming coordinator Steve Alger. The program originated in 1975, modeled after a similar program in Washington, D.C. It is, in a nutshell, a crash course in state government, available to only 134 Minnesota students every year.
In order to be considered as a page, Graham had to write a 500-word essay. Hundreds of students apply annually, but only one from each of the state’s 134 legislative districts is chosen to participate.
The page program brings in 15 to 16 high school juniors each week, Alger said. For the most part, students stay at the nearby Kelly Inn, located just off the state capitol campus. Their week starts with orientation, followed by a discussion of issues. And it just goes on from there.
Over the course of the week, the high school pages meet with various Representatives. They set up the House chambers for each day’s session. They attend press conferences and rallies. They get tours of the state capitol and get a presentation from the Minnesota Historical Society. They meet the governor, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state and the minority leader. They also learn the difference between the House and Senate.
It’s as comprehensive as possible, Algers said.
“I think they learn more of the legislative process in one week here than they do in a whole semester of reading class book text,” Algers said. “Many say it’s a life-changing experience.”
And, of course, they take turns “on the bench” in the House chambers during session. At any time, there are four to five of the high school pages seated on a bench at the front of the House chambers, watching a panel of lights at the back of the room. When a representative needs something – say, a copy of a memo or a packet of information – the representative will flip a switch. The pages respond, taking the notes and delivering materials as necessary.
The whole process was nothing short of fascinating for Graham. A student from a smaller school, Graham applied because she wanted to branch out and try some new experiences. She wanted to meet other people, and she wanted to learn something valuable in the process. During her week at the capitol, Graham got exactly what she wanted.
“It’s been so much fun,” she said. “To see how the government plays out in real life…. We only see what the news wants us to see. When you go on the floor and see what’s really going on, it’s so different.
“It’s definitely a lot of fun to deliver the messages, but there’s definitely a sense of awe, too.”
Graham and her fellow pages sat through a long debate on the Vikings stadium bill last week – it was just one of the many debates they heard on the floor during the week. The experience gave her a whole new appreciation for what Minnesota’s lawmakers do during the legislative session.
“What we’re listening to is what our future is going to be. Sometimes I don’t understand everything, but sometimes you do and you just want to jump up and give your opinion, too,” Graham said.
While she was at the capitol, Graham met with Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington. Garofalo enjoys meeting the student pages, and wishes the page program could get more participants. The students who participate, he said, are often “the best and the brightest from across the state.”
“I think it’s a great program to get youth involved in public service,” he said.
The only thing that made Graham feel a little uncomfortable was the stairs in the House chambers. It seems the spacing of each stair is a bit tricky, and more than one high school page has been known to stumble while serving.
Graham served as a page the week of April 16-20.