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Catonsville student works in Maryland General Assembly

The Maryland House of Delegates begins its session each morning with young people in gray blazers buzzing around the room passing out paperwork, answering questions and bringing coffee to some of the 141 delegates.

During their rare breaks, they pause to listen to discussions of legislation.

High school seniors from around the state have been selected for the Maryland General Assembly's Student Page Program to wear these gray blazers.

Among the 105 chosen for the 433rd Session is Catonsville High School senior Abel Deneke.

Last week was the first of two sessions during which the 17-year-old will serve as a page in the House of Delegates.

"For the past five years almost, I've developed interest in the political science and economic fields," Deneke said. "And so, in my future for college, I'd like to pursue these fields."

That love of politics inspired Deneke to apply to the page program.

He wanted to "see how everyone votes, talk(s) to each other, creates bill," he said.

The page program started in 1970 after a successful trial run at the 1969 constitutional convention. It gives Maryland high school students an opportunity to experience government at the state level.

According to page coordinator Jane Hudiburg, each county in Maryland is allotted a certain number of pages out of the 105 available positions. Each county has a different process for its students to apply. Baltimore County is allowed 14 pages. Deneke was chosen for after submitting a written essay and a resume that included SAT scores, grade point average and extra curricular activities.

Students are assigned to either the House of Delegates or to the Senate, and spend two non-consecutive weeks working and living in Annapolis.

"I was very delighted because, even though I was a little surprised, I was still happy that I was able to come out here," Deneke said.

Deneke said his work started right after receiving his blazer and meeting the other pages on Feb. 4. He attended a committee meeting on synthetic marijuana on Feb. 5 and witnessed a major gun rights rally Feb. 6.

"I was surprised about how many people came out to care about their government," Deneke said of the Wednesday rally, adding that the line to watch the rally on TV was "just enormous."

Deneke also enjoyed meeting politicians and getting to know the political spectrum.

"It was also great to meet a lot of other people who share diverse viewpoints of different political issues," he added.

Del. James Malone Jr., who represents District 12A that includes part of Catonsville, is one of those people. Malone said he and Deneke have met and he plans to take him out to lunch when he returns to Annapolis in March for the student's second week of page duty.

"That's when you go to lunch, just sit there to talk about stuff so they can ask questions (and) encourage them," said Malone, now in his ninth term as a state delegate.

Deneke looks forward to his second week in Annapolis, when the the pace of House activity will step up as the session nears an end.

"The House apparently is very chaotic, very noisy. I heard the Senate is a little more quiet, but they argue about a lot of things," Deneke said.

Hudiburg said that, typically, the pages' first week in Annapolis is more of a training period to prepare them for when sessions get more serious.

"The first week of session, the sessions are very short," Hudiburg said.

"It's really the second week they come in that I really get to know them as an individual because those sessions go on hours long," Hudiburg said.

Deneke will return to Annapolis for his second week of duty March 18-22.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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