Hornsby Students Learn the Legislature, Serve Community as Senate Pages

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Peyton Emerson (left) and his classmate, Gareth Vaughan of Richmond, staff an information desk on Capitol Square. (Senate Page Program)
Peyton Emerson (left) and his classmate, Gareth Vaughan of Richmond, staff an information desk on Capitol Square. (Senate Page Program)

Jack DeVore and Peyton Emerson spend their days in the Virginia General Assembly, working the floor and observing bills as they are vetted in committee and ultimately voted on by the Senate.

DeVore and Emerson are not legislators – they’re eighth-graders at Hornsby Middle School who have spent the past two months living in Richmond and working as Senate Pages.

“The average 13- or 14-year-old wouldn’t get to do all this, and it really is a great experience,” Emerson said.

The Senate Page program gives students a hands-on education in the workings of the state legislature through employment as pages. To become a page, students must write an essay and submit three letters of recommendation.

DeVore and Emerson learned of the program through recommendations from family members and family friends. They said they decided to participate because they wanted have the Senate Page experience.

“This experience is amazing, and being able to see the legislative process up close and meet all of these amazing people is just remarkable,” DeVore said.

DeVore and Emerson are two out of 38 pages for the 2016 legislative session, which concludes this week. The pages were selected from a pool of 159 applicants, Senate Page Program Director Bladen Finch said.

There’s no such thing as a typical day for the pages. Each morning comes with a different assignment, whether it’s working on the Senate floor and running errands for legislators or assisting in the IT department, library or gallery.

DeVore said he expected the Senate to be busy, but not nearly as busy as it really is, calling it “controlled, but it’s madness.”

“We get to see all the work that’s put into these 60 days and it’s amazing how they do it,” DeVore said.

DeVore and Emerson agreed they were most surprised by the work “behind the scenes,” particularly the dedication of a senator’s staff.

“The legislative aides, the assistants, everyone behind the scenes you don’t really get to talk about or meet, all the work that they do and how many bills go through here on a daily basis is amazing and it’s incredible to see,” Emerson said.

When the pages are not busy running errands, they are learning etiquette, money management and other skills through professional development classes. Pages participate in a resume workshop and a crash course on the college admissions process before meeting with admissions officers, Finch said.

Pages also have the opportunity to mingle with Senators outside of the legislature at professional events. DeVore and Emerson agreed an event at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has been their favorite.

Jack DeVore (right) and list classmate, Tyler Garrett of Lynchburg, purchase food products from Ellwood Thompson's grocery in Richmond's Carytown district as a part of the Senate Page Program community service project. (Senate Page Program)
Jack DeVore (right) and list classmate, Tyler Garrett of Lynchburg, purchase food products from Ellwood Thompson’s grocery in Richmond’s Carytown district as a part of the Senate Page Program community service project. (Senate Page Program)

DeVore and Emerson said the etiquette skills and work ethic they have learned as Senate Pages will give them an edge over their classmates when they return to Hornsby later this month.

“You cannot be a slacker here,” DeVore said of the program. “You have to do your job and do it with efficiency and make sure you’re always on time, always doing everything with respect.”

Each year the pages collaborate on a class service project. As of March 1, the pages had donated $15,174 in gifts and 730 pounds in nonperishable food items to FeedMore, the Central Virginia hunger-relief organization.

“It was really cool to see all the hard work we put into the service project and know it will help people out in need,” DeVore said.

Tim McDermott, FeedMore chief development officer, said the combined donation of gifts and food from the pages will help prepare 75,000 meals.

He said one of the “unmeasurable” impacts of the service project is the visibility Senate Pages give to hunger in Virginia.

“They’ve been at this for the entire legislative session. The number of elected officials and others they have come in contact with has been immense,” McDermott said. “It’s always beneficial when they know more about hunger and the impact of serving those who are hungry.”

DeVore and Emerson said the Senate Page program has compelled them to learn more about politics. DeVore said he is interested in majoring in political science in college, while Emerson is exploring finance or engineering.

DeVore said the program has shown him he is capable of anything he sets his mind to; Emerson said he has learned how to work at different levels and the importance of showing kindness to others.

“It really helps you get that young professional feel so you will be ready in a year to go out into the workplace and find a job that will really fit,” Emerson said. “You know what to do and how you have to do it.”