For Joon Ho Jeon, 17, "Congressional Week in Washington" was a chance to envision himself 10 or 15 years from now.
To Thomas P. Ehrlich, 16, it was an opportunity to meet his congressman and see how government really works.
Jeff W. McKone, 17, was impressed by debates on both sides of several issues, including gun control legislation, while Meg Hanlon, 17, said the visit was the fulfillment of a long-held dream.
U.S. Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), who started the "Week in Washington" for Montgomery County students, saw it as a chance to do something for his constituents. The program also may give Barnes some help in the future. Several of the students who participated came away saying they would work for Barnes in his next campaign.
The participants had different reasons for being at the Capitol, but all agreed on one thing: They were glad they came.
Poolesville High School teacher Susan Ketron said she, too, had learned from the experience while accompanying the students.
Congressional Week, July 8 through 15, included seminars and meetings aimed at giving the students a first-hand look at the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. The students also learned about the news media and lobbying organizations.
"I teach U.S. history and contemporary issues, and a lot of issues we discuss in class were discussed in this program," said Ketron, who teaches 10th grade at Poolesville-High. "Especially the information on Watergate and meeting with John Sirica were very helpful, because I teach a unit on Watergate and we talk about Sirica. So it was interesting to talk to him and hear what he had to say."
Jeon, who attends Paint Branch High School in Silver Spring, said he plans to study law and to go into politics. "Coming down here and seeing the Capitol stimulates you to want to be like these people," he said.
"I have that goal -- holding a political office. But it may be hard. I'm Oriental, and in Maryland there aren't many Orientals."
Still, Jeon said, he would love to go back to Korea as a U.S. government official. "I could be a senator or representative on a subcommittee visiting Korea. But there'll probably be someone before me, because there are some (Orientals) already in college studying political science."
Ehrlich, who also attends Poolesville High, said, "I wanted to meet my congressman and learn about the government." He called the program excellent and said, "For every argument presented, we heard both sides. Speakers on both sides of the issues were equally qualified. They both had good arguments. You listen to anti-gun control and agree with them. Then the next day you hear the gun control people and you agree with them. You didn't feel like you were fed just one side of the views."
McKone, also of Poolesville High, said congressional week made him more open to both sides of an issue. "Before I came here, I probably would have registered what my father registered, but now I will look at the other side. Basically, a lot of people are either open-minded or not. I think I took that for granted before this week."
Hanlon said the trip was like a dream come true. "I always wanted to work on the Hill. It is the most exciting place to be. I just wanted to do anything I could to get to work here," she said.
When a social science teacher at Stone Ridge School in Bethesda, a private school, announced the summer program at an assembly, Hanlon said, she brought the teacher a number of letters she had written to Barnes in an effort to win a congressional internship or a job as a page in the Capitol.
"They (congressmen) really do care what their constituents think, and if you are really interested, you can form a lobby group and make a difference. People will listen," Hanlon said. "Elected people don't have (fixed) opinions already; they are open to what people have to say and will listen."
Hanlon said she will work in Barnes' campaign next year. "I think he does a good job and I agree with his policy."
Speakers and topics for this summer's Congressional Week included: Judge John Sirica, who talked about Watergate and the judicial system; creators of the "Scared Stiff" program, dealing with the hazards of drunken driving; a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration psychologist and Cindi Lamb of Gaithersburg, national vice president and Maryland coordinator for "Mothers Against Drunk Drivers," who spoke about efforts to combat drunken driving; representatives of Phyllis Schafly's Eagle Forum and ERAmerica, who debated the Equal Rights Amendment; National Rifle Association and Handgun Control Inc. officials; and Sens. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Charles Mathias R-Md.), who discussed current national issues.
Barnes said he started the summer program in 1978 as "a good way for students in Montgomery County to get a feel for Congress and government and the way the government relates to the city."
This year there were 25 students and one teacher participating, and several of them came away with a desire to get involved in the political process. Like Hanlon, Ehrlich and McKone said they planned to work for Barnes' reelection.
"Election comes up in 1982 and we will both be able to vote," said McKone. "I plan to help out with his campaign in some kind of way -- passing out flyers or soliciting votes over the phone. But I will be involved."