Sheldon Ekirch and Cassie Waldron are both 14 and both are in the 8th-grade at Hidden Valley Middle School. And in January both got to experience something that most kids their age will never get the chance to do. Ekirch and Waldron were elected to serve as pages for the General Assembly when they were in session in January.
We spoke with both girls to find out all about their experiences.
Q:How did you end up applying to become a page?
“My mom’s boss, who is the head of the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Roanoke City got some information about it and gave it to my mom. My mom asked me if I wanted to do it and I said that I did. I applied for the House of Delegates and I got three recommendation letters and an interview with Delegate Griffith and a few weeks later I got a letter from him saying I got into the program.”
Q: When did you begin and what was it like?
“January 11 was orientation. When I stepped into the Chamber it was kind of intimidating and amazing because it was so big and exciting and I was nervous at the same time.”
Q: What was orientation like?
“During orientation the speaker talked and we went over the rules. Then we got a tour of the Capitol and the General Assembly building.”
Q: What were your duties as a page for the House?
“We helped in the chamber and we also did filing and enrolling and other pages had other jobs. We filed stuff and did mailing a lot too and we ran errands.”
Q: What did you learn?
I learned to be more independent and I also learned how a bill becomes a law and the main law process and how the government works.”
Q: How long did you serve as a page?
“For about two months. Every weekend I pretty much came home. In the beginning it was kind of hard but then after about a week you got into it and everything and it seemed like a daily routine.”
Q: Did you get to see your classmate Cassie Waldron any?
“I didn’t get to work with Cassie but I saw her a lot. I got to meet people from Northern Virginia and other people from Virginia Beach. I made a tons of friends.”
Q: What was your favorite part about this experience?
“I made a lot of friends and I learned a lot more too. You got to do more stuff by yourself while we were there and we learned a lot more than just being in school. You really learned how the government process works. When you are there and you see the Delegates at work, it’s just amazing.”
Although this wasn’t her first time to Richmond, it was the first time Ekirch was able to be in the Chamber and the General Assembly Building. She received a stipend for food. Ekirch was one of about 40 pages she said.
Ekirch is the daughter of Alice and Roger Ekirch and one day wants to become a psychiatrist and go to medical school.
Ekirch still keeps in touch with the friends that she met in Richmond and plans to apply to be a house page for next year. She also kept a blog of her experience. It can be viewed at www.2009richmondpage.blogspot.com
Q: How did you learn about becoming a page?
“ Last year when I was in 7th grade my mom went to have a conference with my U.S. History and math teacher and they both said I would be good to represent Hidden Valley as a page. So, we went online and researched about it and I got the information and they gave me an application to fill out. I had to get permission from the Principal and three letters of recommendations. Then I had an interview with Senator Edwards.”
Q: What was orientation like?
“At first we had to have a lot of tours of the Capitol which was really neat. Then we had to do some training on the chamber floor of the Senate. We had to learn how you pass out papers and we had Committee training- we went to our specific trainings. We had to learn where all the senators sit and their names.”
Q: What was a normal day for you like?
“We had to go to the page room every morning for roll call, they would tell you your duties, you were on duty from 8:15 to 5 in the afternoon. At 9 you would have to go to the legislative library, get a calendar, 10:45 we were answering telephone calls for a senator. If you weren’t signed up for anything you would work in the page room running bills. I was there from Jan. 11 to Feb. 28 and I came home on weekends and I would come back to Richmond on Sunday evenings and stay at the Omni Hotel.
Q: And what was being a page like?
“At first it was a little bit weird because all the pages- there were 36 of us. We were all pretty close right off the bat. It was really fun I didn’t even miss being home after I was there for the second week. The first week, it was kind of hard because there was a lot to adjust to. At first it was hard because the training was hard, but afterward we got used to it it was a lot easier.”
Q: Did you make lots of friends while you were there?
“All 36 of us became really close- a lot of them were from Richmond, but one is from Martinsville. I became good friends with the Governor’s daughter. I made a friend from Roanoke city, so we became really good friends. Most of us are all talking on Facebook trying to decide where we are going to hang out even if it’s only for the weekend.”
Q: What did you learn?
“Basically we got a first hand look at the legislative process. It was a lot to take in at the end. We even did a mock session so we got to see how they vote on bills and that process. I think we debated the smoke free act and the no telecommunication device use while drive and debated an adoption bill.”
Q: And you used this as your community service project for your 8th-grade Civics class right?
“We have to do community service so I was able to count anything I did after 3 p.m. as community service. I had a two hour study session where my teachers would send me work. You have to maintain you’re A or B average. It was a little bit different because I was used to havinga two hour school day and so it was hard to adjust to an eight hour day when I got back here.”
Q: Overall, how was the experience?
“It was basically one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It’s basically like being in college because you have a roommate and you have to learn to share and you learn a lot. We had to right an essay about a bill. All the friendships you make are basically there for a lifetime.”
Although Waldron is not eligible to be a page again. she said she would like to do the U.S. Senate when she is in 10th or 11th grade. She says her teachers have inspired her a lot to be involved in politics.
“I think my history teach Mr. Struzinsky really inspired me to get more involved in the legislative process. I would always be researching current events and watching the news to learn more about what was going on. Everyday we would debate in class what we saw and he thought I was really involved in it. I was really interested in it and wanted to learn more about it and so he thought it would be a really good opportunity for me.”
Waldron is the daughter of Tom and Cheryl Waldron. She hopes to go to Richmond Law School one day.
You can view Cassie’s blog about her expereince at http://richmond-page.blogspot.com/.