While most of their peers are donning coats and heading for bus stops, two Chester teens instead don blazers and prepare for a day of work at Virginia’s General Assembly.
Carter McCants and Noah Clarke are two of 39 House of Delegates pages serving during this year’s legislative session, which began Jan. 13 and ends Saturday, March 13.
“My aunt did it when she was my age, and she had a lot of fun with it,” Carter said. “I really wanted to do it because I heard it was a great experience.”
Carter, a student at Chester Middle School, said her interest in government and the legislative process was sparked, at least in part, by Deborah Bailey, her civics teacher.
Noah, a student in the center-based gifted program at Matoaca Middle School, said he’s been interested in politics for the past two or three years. His interest developed as he read newspapers and watched television news, he said. He found information on the page program online and decided to apply, he said.
Carter and Noah share more than just an interest in politics, though – the two were in third, fourth and fifth grade together at Curtis Elementary School, Carter said, and they live across the street from each other.
For the pages, the workday begins at 8:30 a.m., Carter said. The teens alternate between working various jobs and serving on the floor of the House of Delegates, she said.
When interviewed, Carter was in the midst of a stint in the Journal/Records Office and Noah was working on the House floor.
On the floor, pages assist the delegates with lunch orders, errands and other tasks, Carter said. Pages sit on a bench and are notified on a screen when a delegate has pushed a button to call a page, she said.
In the Journal/Records Office, she deals with bills all day, including copying, faxing and running errands, she said. Noah said he’d already worked on committees, but he preferred working on the floor.
“For some reason, the floor just interests me more,” he said. Noah has been able to have “a variety of different interactions with legislators, whether getting them lunch, delivering bills or just going to speak to them,” he said.
The workday ends at 5 p.m., and students have two hours of free time before study hall from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., which they use to keep up on their school work, Carter said.
Sunday through Thursday nights the students stay at a hotel in Richmond, returning home only on the weekends.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s different,” Carter said. “It’s a lot of paperwork.”
And the debate doesn’t stay on the House floor – the pages often get into discussions about issues, Carter said, and there’s been some talk of establishing a debate club for them.
“As of now, the most heated debates have been on health care,” Noah said.
Page Coordinator Helen Hess, of Chesterfield, has been working with the program for a decade.
“I thoroughly enjoy it,” she said. The students in the program are about the same age as those she taught for most of her career in education, she said.
“They come from all over the state,” she said. “It seems like they come in and they make friends so easily and they’re friends for life, basically. … It’s such a neat experience for them.”
And, it’s not all work and no play, Hess said. The students had a party to watch the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, Noah said, and they’ll soon go on a bowling trip.
When asked about the most exciting part of the program, Carter and Noah took time to confer before offering a joint answer. Speaking for the pair, Carter said the most
exciting parts were the privileges the pages get in the program that they don’t get at home; making new friends; being on the floor and around the delegates; and serving people with power.
But, for all its excitement, the program isn’t necessarily well known among middle school students.
“I had to explain it a lot,” Carter said, because her friends weren’t familiar with the program. “After I told them, they wished they would have applied.”
Noah and Carter both want to go to Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School next year for government and international studies. They also see themselves being involved in politics in their future careers.
“I think it’s very interesting,” Carter said. “There’s always something different going on.”
Both said they’d recommend the program to others.
“I know that some kids may know something about [the legislative process], but most kids probably don’t know the whole thing,” Noah said. When those kids grow up and get jobs, he said, knowledge of the process will be important because proposed bills will “probably affect them one way or another.”
Austin Timberlake, a 14-year-old head page, said those who applied for the program should be dedicated. It’s not something to get into for no reason, he said. Working as a page last year was one of the best times of his life, he said, and he enjoys working with first-year pages this year.
Noah and Carter said the session was flying by; crossover, the halfway point in the session, was Feb. 13.
“I wish it would go slower,” Carter said.