Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=65349
Story Retrieval Date: 5/25/2013 6:59:06 AM CST
Senate pages must be a junior in high school, 16 or 17 at the time of their appointment by their Senator and have a GPA of at least 3.0.
Interested students should write to their senator to request an application. Each Senate office has a different application procedure.
The application procedure varies for each senator.For example, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., requires transcripts from the high school, three letters of recommendation, a cover letter and a resume. Some offices may require an interview.
For questions about the program, contact Elizabeth Roach, the Director of the United States Page Program, at 202-228-1291.
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate page program might be the world’s most exclusive summer camp or boarding school, depending on how you look at it.
On the upside, the government pays these 30 teenagers, who fetch papers and help keep the senators organized, $21,033 annually, with $600 per month deducted for room and board. The program allows America’s youth to observe legislation and the world’s most powerful leaders first hand. It also includes typical junior-level study at the U.S. Senate Page School with classes no larger than 10 students.
On the downside, these 16- and 17- year-old students, chosen by senators from their home states, spend months at a time away from their families and friends in a regimented, supervised life that begins as early as 5 a.m. and may continue into the early-morning hours during marathon sessions. They perform mostly menial chores and miss prom, birthdays and other milestones while living in a college-style dorm supervised by proctors and a Capitol Hill cop.
But it’s a life that most former Senate pages would relive in a second. Vincent Hopwood, a summer Senate page in 1985, made small talk with Ted Kennedy on an elevator and counts that as a highlight of his program.
The House of Representatives has a similar program in which pages are appointed by their home congress member; Senate and House pages don’t have much contact.
Kelcy Brunner, a freshman at Black Hills State University in South Dakota, was a page from January through June of this year and accepted all the rules and regulation as par for the course. Although pages must be juniors in high school, Brunner was able to graduate high school early after the experience. Senate pages give up much of their free time and have limited access to computers, meaning not a lot of Facebook and YouTube. They also temporarily forsake their cars and cell phones, a tragedy to any young adult.
“They were afraid we’d have them in the Senate chambers or some other place,” Brunner said about the cell phones.
Senate pages can serve one semesters on Capitol Hill during a school year, or stay for one of two shorter summer sessions, which are three and four weeks each. School-year pages must live in Webster Hall and attend the school, which is in the dorm’s basement.
Brunner said it was a comfortable dorm with four to six girls per room, a shared bathroom and a telephone in each room. There were even plasma televisions in the dorm’s common rooms, which are used rarely.
“For the first three months I didn’t watch TV at all,” Brunner said. “Nobody watches them because nobody has time.”
Classes for the students begin promptly at 6:15 a.m., but tutoring is available at 5:30 a.m.
“They really didn’t want you to get up before 5,” Brunner said.
Principal Kathryn Weeden said the classes may be as short as 20 minutes, depending on how early the pages need to leave in order to set up the Senate chamber, but the work is always made up.
“We are constantly shuffling the deck to make sure we cover everything,” Weeden.
The students are expected to arrive at the Capitol one hour and 15 minutes before the Senate convenes for the day. They divide into two nonpartisan groups and work one hour, then take an hour off. During that time, pages usually do homework that rivals any college student’s studying.
“A lot of the times we had huge loads of homework,” Brunner said, “at least four solid hours, easily.”
During the day, pages may be charged with getting papers, lecterns and cups of water. Brunner said some senators are specific about their water and there’s a chart inside the fridge at the cloakroom listing these preferences.
The work may seem menial, but Hopwood said senators treated the pages with respect.
“We weren’t just gophers, these people knew who we were and I think the appreciated what we did and knew what it meant for us,” Hopwood said.
While half the pages are free to leave by 6 p.m., the others must stay until Senate breaks for the night. The groups switch off the responsibility, but if the Senate stays later than midnight, classes may be canceled the following morning and a driver will be sent to pick up the students.
“Usually we’d be done with homework,” Brunner said. “If the Senate stayed longer than 9 p.m., there would be no homework the next day.”
Although pages are appointed and assigned to serve a political party, they are not allowed to discuss politics with each other and are to assists a senator of another party.
“We were just supposed to be seen and not heard and do our job and get out of their way and let them do their jobs,” Brunner said. “It was just basically get the work done and don’t quibble about party.”
Pages on the early shift may leave Webster Hall, provided they follow a lengthy procedure. But then the pages must stay together when traveling or risk demerits.
“They have security cameras everywhere and you have to be careful,” Brunner said.
Another source of demerits is being late for curfew, which is 9 p.m. during the week and 10 p.m. weekends. It doesn’t matter if the pages are three minutes late or 20, demerits will be issued.
“You have to make sure all your clocks are set to Webster Hall’s time,” Brunner said.
Some pages do go home for proms or their birthdays, but they each deal with it differently, said Senate Page Program Director Elizabeth Roach.
“We do get pages who get homesick just like a college freshman, except they’re two years younger,” Roach said. “They give up a lot to be here.”
Brunner said all the rules and restrictions were worth the trouble in order to play an integral role in politics.
“The government was our guardian for six months and they took it very seriously,” Brunner said. “They didn’t want anything to happen while we were there on their time.”