Along with legislators and lobbyists arriving in Richmond this week for the 1985 session of the Virginia General Assembly are nine Northern Virginia students who are serving as pages for the scheduled 46-day legislative sesssion.
Thirteen-year-old John Hodges, a seventh-grader at Whitman Intermediate School in Alexandria, said before he left that he is excited about the prospect of seeing firsthand how bills are passed in the House of Delegates. "I figure it'll be a real good experience," he said.
Amanda Bestimt, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, offered a more pragmatic view of the internship. "I think it will help me get into college," she said. "It's hard to get into the school you want, so you might as well start thinking about it as early as you can."
Christine Ghabel, 13, a seventh-grader at Bryant Intermediate School in Alexandria, said she thinks the internship offers her "a rare opportunity." Among other benefits, she said, serving as a page will enable her to "learn more about our government, meet new people, and do stuff most people can't do."
The pages, who range in age from 12 to 15, "contribute a lot" to the legislature, said Carol Headley, administrative assistant to Speaker of the House A.L. Philpott (D-Bassett). Their main job, she said, is to ensure that bill books -- books containing proposed legislation -- are kept up to date. They do other administrative tasks and deliver messages, and because they are stationed on the assembly floor, "They learn quite a bit about how the legislature works," she said.
Susan Clarke, assistant clerk to the Senate, said the 15 Senate pages have duties similar to those of their 39 counterparts in the House. Neither group earns school credit for their work, she noted, but each page receives $125 per week; (room and board are provided). They generally work from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and have tutoring sessions from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. weekday evenings.
House pages are chosen by the House speaker, but Senate pages are chosen directly by state senators. However, prospective House pages must have their applications endorsed by a House delegate before they can be considered by the speaker, Headley said.
"The first thing we look for in choosing pages is a geographic balance from across the state," Headley said. "And the tendency also is to appoint older children in the age bracket, because the younger kids can always reapply the following year." In addition, she said, statements from a student's principal, which are required, weigh heavily, as do extracurricular activities and honors and awards. Another plus for a potential page, Headley said, would be a student's placement in so-called gifted and talented programs.
While personal connections with a delegate are "not the significant factor," said Headley, "the recommendations from delegates do make a difference. And obviously, a glowing recommendation is better than the standard 'I endorse' statement." About 250 students applied for the 39 House positions, she said.
Katryna Nields, a 15-year-old sophomore at Madeira School in McLean, said that when Sen. Clive DuVal II (D-McLean), who knows her mother from work they do at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in McLean, asked her to serve as a page, she was "a little reluctant about it, because it means missing a lot of school. I was a little scared of that, but after talking with a girl who did it a few years ago, I decided I couldn't miss such a good opportunity."
Her sister was an intern for Rep. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.) last year, said Nields, and encouraged her to accept DuVal's offer.
Missing school is not the only concern for pages and their parents. For most, simply being away from home for an extended time, even under fairly strict supervision, entails "growing up a lot," as one parent put it.
Christine Ghabel said she is excited about "a chance to be on my own." She went to Richmond a few weeks ago with her parents, she said, and came away thinking "Richmond is a really nice city. I think it will be fun to be down there."
Besides, she said, "I can always come home on weekends."
Other Northern Virginia students who will be acting as pages this year are J. Roderick O'Connor, Manassas; Bradley S. Thomas, Nokesville; Karla Rollins, Leesburg; Lisannes Kavanagh, Sterling, and John Roberts, Manassas Park.