When Delegate Kristen J. Amundson (D-44) started recruiting for young leaders from the community, she got plenty of responses. Fourteen area students submitted their names in the hopes that they would be selected for the Young Leaders Shadow Program. Deciding factors included their GPA; the history and government courses taken and grades earned; and the activities, honors, offices and community/political services which best demonstrated each student's unique qualifications to be a Young Leaders Job Shadow Program participant.
They also had to receive a teacher recommendation and submit an essay titled, "Imagine yourself as an adult." This brief paragraph had to explain how each student will be an involved citizen in their community, state, nation, or world.
While Amundson usually selects six students to take to Richmond with her, this year she secured additional funding and arranged transportation so that she could expand the program.
"This was an unusually talented and engaged group of people. There were so many highly qualified candidates that I expanded the group to eight; I wish I could have taken more. They are the best of the best. I do this program because I believe that young people are democracy's next generation," said Amundson.
SELECTED FOR THE program were Taylor Andreae from St. Stephen's/St. Agnes; Laura Bieging, Michelle Khilji and Katie Meyer from West Potomac; Eboni Blake, Samuel Lemus and Phillip Deneault from Mount Vernon; and Amanda Hipkins from Bishop Ireton. They spent a whirlwind three days in Richmond, meeting with elected and appointed officials, staff members and other government representatives. They attended committee meetings and sessions and toured the Capitol Building and Governor's Mansion.
It wasn't all fun and games; the students had plenty of work to do, as well. Among other things, they tracked legislation regarding police brutality in video games; they studied debate techniques in the Virginia General Assembly and they compared how things were done in the House and the Senate.
LAURA BIEGING liked spending time with the lieutenant governor.
"We sat down and got to talk to him [Tim Kaine]; he spent about 30 minutes with us," said Bieging, a junior at West Potomac.
"It was a very cool experience. We met a lot of interesting people — I was happy to be selected," she said. "I wasn't sure if I was interested in politics, but I think I am now. I enjoyed being down there [Richmond]."
Phillip Deneault enjoyed it as well, and was particularly impressed with the Washington Post reporter, Michael Shear.
"I liked talking to the Washington Post reporter. I liked his insights—he seemed to have the best overview," said Deneault.
A junior at Mount Vernon High School, Deneault said that he wants to get his law degree, and then either become a lawyer or go into politics. One of the things that surprised him on this trip was the relation of the two parties.
"I was kind of expecting Democrats and Republicans to be more split, but they were all friendly to each other, and pretty loose in session," said Deneault. He was also surprised at how tired they were, walking through the snow everyday.
"I'm just glad the buildings were close," he said.
The highlight for Bishop Ireton Senior Amanda Hipkins was when they were introduced in the House of Delegates and the Senate.
"The lieutenant governor was one of my favorite meetings, and I liked the tapings with Cox Communications," she said.
Cox Communications supported the program, and will be airing the footage on the students on the Cox Channel in the near future.
Hipkins said that she got to see a lot of local government and learned the difference between the House and the Senate.
"We met a lot of high-up officials and I learned a lot," said Hipkins. "If you're at all interested in government, I would suggest applying for this program next year. It opened my eyes to a lot of things."