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Class, legislature are in session for Towson High senior

Elizabeth Nance, 17, a senior in Towson High School's Law and Public Policy program, poses outside of the Maryland State House in Annapolis on Feb. 10. She is one of several local students serving as pages during the 2012 General Assembly session.
Elizabeth Nance, 17, a senior in Towson High School's Law and Public Policy program, poses outside of the Maryland State House in Annapolis on Feb. 10. She is one of several local students serving as pages during the 2012 General Assembly session. (Staff Photo by Jen Rynda)

As a senior in the Law and Public Policy magnet school within Towson High School, Elizabeth Nance's high school career has been centered around the political process.

And though Nance took a field trip to Annapolis as a freshman, the opportunity to be a page in the state senate this month has provided a unique perspective that many her age don't get.

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"Actually being on the floor as completely different experience than just sitting up in the gallery and watching, because you get to hear all the side comments of the senators," she said. "They talk to their constituents and receptionists and clerks, and they're on their laptops the whole time, looking things up and talking to each other."

The constant activity reminded Nance of the setting she left behind for her week in Annapolis.

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"It's like a high school class, essentially," she said, "but they're getting a lot of things done, and they're doing it for the benefit of their constituents."

Started in 1970, the Maryland General Assembly page program is open to all seniors in public or private schools. There are 13 pages from Baltimore County serving this year. Other local students are Nathaniel Cohen of Loch Raven High School and Maggie James of Notre Dame Preparatory School. Students generally serve two weeks; Nance will go back for her second week in late March.

Nance was one of six pages serving last week in the state senate. Speaking outside the state house last Friday afternoon, she recalled a busy and informative week within the state's legislative branch.

The opportunity to be a page arose when Nance's AP Economics teacher, Gilbert Stange, announced the program to his students.

"He said we got to live in Annapolis for a week to help out senators and delegates, and it was just a really interesting idea," Nance said. "I thought, 'oh sure, what the heck?' "

She filled out the application, wrote an essay on how the page program would benefit her going forward, and was lucky enough to be selected.

She arrived in Annapolis on Monday afternoon, Feb. 6, and after gathering with the pages from across the state to receive their jackets and have their ID photos taken, the senate and house pages were split into their respective groups.

There, Nance said, they were given a rundown of what their responsibilities would be for the coming week.

"We make a lot of coffee," she said with a laugh. "Lots of tea, and we have to run and get ice for this one senator every morning. We just kind of do whatever they ask us to do."

Jane Hudiburg, page coordinator for the Maryland General Assembly, said other responsibilities include updating the senator's bill books, delivering documents and researching bills.

All of these tasks had to be carried out without being a distraction to the senate proceedings.

"They just wave a finger and we walk over," Nance said. "There's a special way that we have to walk, and different ways that we can actually approach the senators. It's like you're not really there. We're like the background."

Even so, being in the background provided Nance, who aspires to a career in family law, politics or education, with a chance to see the inner machinations of a legislative session.

She recalled one day on the floor when two senators — one Democrat and the other a Republican — argued about a bill regarding jury duty benefits.

"It was back-and-forth, back-and-forth," said Nance, a resident of Woodlawn. "I didn't think they'd actually argue like that. I thought they'd just state their opinions and sit back down."

Nance also got to sit in on a judicial proceedings hearing Feb. 8, which covered topics ranging from legal representation in the criminal process to animal and child abuse.

"It was really, really interesting that you can be some person walking on the street and have an opinion or some type of background in whatever they're discussing, and you can say 'I want to go testify in front of my senators and delegates,' " Nance said. "You just put your name on a list and you go in there and talk.

"I had no idea you could actually do that."

In all, the week provided real-life examples of the types of concepts and ideas Nance has been studying at Towson High School.

Hudiburg said many pages tell her after the fact that the first-hand observations do more to educate about the legislative process than a textbook ever could, and Nance agreed.

"It does give you an inside look at how things work, and how certain things happen the way they do," she said. "It's pretty cool that have that bit of an understanding in what they actually do, why they're doing it, and who they're doing it for."

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