Senate Page program offers students real-life legislative experience

Troy InVoice

Auburn High School Student News

The Washington State Legislature possesses one of the most prestigious page programs in the country which hundreds of teenage Washingtonians apply to partake in each year. Once accepted into the program, student pages spend a week at a time in Olympia. The duration of their stay is split between classes and work on the floor. Pages learn about the legislative process for two hours  in classes each day. If they’re not in class, they may be able to participate in a mock session of the legislature. In a mock session of legislature, student pages can draft a bill and discuss its’ merits to get a realistic, interactive experience. They may also hang around the Senate Dispatch room where Senators can call for pages if needed. The rest of their time is spent carrying messages along the floor of the Senate, to and from committee meeting rooms and in between Senate Chambers. “ If the Senate is in session, there are all sorts of amendments that are constantly being handed out to Senators, on the floor of the Senate, and we have pages do that work”, said Senator Joe (R) Fain from Auburn, Washington. “They are the only non-staff members, with a handful of staff members allowed on the Senate floor, no one else is allowed to be on the Senate floor unless they are explicitly invited except for pages. They get to talk one on one with Senators. They have an opportunity most people don’t have to talk to their elected officials”, added Fain.

If student pages can’t commute or are  non-residents of Olympia, the program has numerous page families who host student pages and provide room and board in their homes. These families are usually retired legislative staffers. A few pages will be assigned to a house for the duration of their week in Olympia.

Becoming a senate page offers numerous benefits to a young student.  Senator Fain stated, “It’s a great resume builder. I think a lot of colleges are looking at those extra curricular activities that students are participating in to differentiate them from other applicants. It’s a great experience because you are actually doing a job, you’re taking around messages, you’re learning about legislation, you’re interacting with elected officials”. In addition to beneficially padding college applications, student pages get paid a small sum for their services while working within the Senate. Pages are paid $35 dollars for each day worked which consists of Monday through Friday, earning them a total of $175 for the week they spent in Olympia.

The limitations accompanying becoming a student page are almost non-existent besides a strict dress code. “You have time to work on your regular studies from your regular classrooms so kids don’t fall behind, but it also depends on what’s going on that week and what’s going on back home. Sometimes a kid who isn’t staying ahead on things will fall behind and make it difficult for them to catch up. It’s important kids talk to their parents, talk to their teachers to make sure becoming a page will fit into their schedule”, said Fain. Once a student is admitted into the program and is on the Senate floor, the same rules that apply to Senators concerning decorum and even dress code apply to student pages. The dress code for student pages when working are restricted to clean, pressed black slacks, a white blouse or shirt and solid black shoes. Boys are required to wear a black tie while girls are not allowed to wear skirts of any kind. Pages are expected to be sitting quietly and attentive during meetings and debates as well as Senators. Along with the conservative dress code, student pages also can’t be younger than fourteen or older than seventeen.

The Senate Page Program provides students with a unique opportunity to learn by experiencing the legislative process first hand. Being the only non-staff members that get to be on the Senate floor, they get to handle integral documents and interact with influential government workers. They get to watch the Senate engage in spirited debates on the floor over a wide range of issues varying from transportation to civil rights. “They’re really an integral part of the legislature”, said Senator Joe Fain. “This really incredible opportunity to see government up close is an experience and resume builder. I want make sure it’s open to as many diverse kids from diverse backgrounds as possible. I think that’s the one thing that the page program needs to do a better job of, making sure that all kids involved in it are reflective of the diversity of all the many backgrounds of our community”.

How to apply to be a page:

  • Complete the Page Program Application PDF that can be found on the Washington State Legislature website.
  • Seek sponsorship from a Senator
  • Find recommendations as noted on the application
  • Mail completed application to the Senator who represents your legislative district.
  • Applications may be submitted no earlier than September and no later than five weeks before the end of the legislative session.

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