Harford County's student pages will not only get coffee and file papers for legislators during their time with the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, but also they will get a behind-the-curtain view of state government.
"You learn the textbook version of how legislative bodies work, but as a page you're going to see how things really work," Natalie Hutcheson, a former page, said. "You'll see the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing of how the process actually goes."
Hutcheson was the keynote speaker during a meet-and-greet breakfast for this year's six student pages, their families and Harford's legislators Wednesday morning. She served as a page in the 2014 General Assembly session and graduated from C. Milton Wright High School the same year.
"In two short weeks, paging gave me some of my fondest memories of high school," she said.
The breakfast meeting was held at Patterson Mill High School. The meal was provided by students in the school's Foods and Hospitality Management program.
"When putting on your gray page jacket, you can't help but feel a sense of pride," Hutcheson said.
Harford County has been sending pages from private and public schools to Annapolis since the program's inception in 1970, George Toepfer, supervisor of social studies for Harford County Public Schools, said during the breakfast.
This year's Harford pages include seniors Lindsay Cullum and Jacob Wright, of C. Milton Wright, Gabrielle Shlikas and Alison Smith, of Edgewood High School, Drew Forthman, of The John Carroll School and Jennifer Little, of Patterson Mill.
"I'm just looking forward to meeting the people who make our government work," Wright, 17, of Bel Air, said.
He said he has been interested in the workings of government since he took an AP government course taught by Michael Brogley — the Harford page program coordinator — his freshman year.
Brogley said he teaches AP U.S. government and AP comparative government, an overview of the governments of different countries, at CMW.
Cullum, 17, of Bel Air, said she is looking forward to being "right in the thick of it" in Annapolis. She also had Brogley as a teacher.
The 2018 session is scheduled to begin Jan. 10, according to the General Assembly website.
High school seniors from across the state spend two weeks — the weeks are non-consecutive — working with legislators in the House of Delegates and Maryland Senate as pages. They support the legislators while the respective chambers are in session each day by keeping paperwork in order, delivering materials and messages to the floor, answering phones and greeting visitors, according to a Department of Legislative Services web page.
"It really is an opportunity to be immersed in the legislative process and see how it works," Toepfer said.
Pages are paid a $55-a-day stipend, and they must secure their own lodgings, often with people who live near the State House. Lodging costs $25 a night, according to the web page.
Hutcheson, the former page, said it was her first time living away from home, having a job, salary and rent.
She said pages learn a lot from interacting with legislators and General Assembly staff, but they will learn the most from their peers, who she called "some of the best and brightest in the state of Maryland."
She said they will meet peers from public and private schools and from metropolitan and rural areas, who have a variety of political views.
"For me, this was the first time I really had exposure to multiple viewpoints different from my own," Hutcheson said. "This diversity really opened my eyes up to a bigger world."
She encouraged the pages to explore historic Annapolis and interact with multiple people in state government.
"You have the opportunity to impress some of the most valuable people in the state," she said.
Hutcheson said later that she is a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she is studying information systems and marketing. She expects to graduate next May.
The legislators present included Senators Wayne Norman and J.B. Jennings and Delegates Andrew Cassilly, Glen Glass, Susan McComas and Teresa Reilly, all Republicans.
Glass and McComas later described how valuable pages are, with McComas saying "they keep us hydrated and nourished."
McComas said legislators "leave the floor at your peril" if they want to get something to eat or drink or obtain paperwork.
"[Pages] perform a wonderful function," she said.
Glass said legislators can push a button, and pages thread their way through the busy House floor to attend to them.
Glass said having the pages helps him and his colleagues keep their minds on legislation and not be distracted by minor tasks.
"Without the pages it would be rough, really, really rough," he said.