“The idea behind the project was to make the shutdown come alive for the girls.”
— Andre Withers, The Madeira School
Katie Barack, an 11th grade student at The Madeira School, in McLean, was looking forward to spending the fall semester working in a congressional office, walking the halls of U.S. Capitol and getting a first-hand view of the legislative process. Instead, she’s strolling along the National Mall engaging in conversations with those whose lives have been affected by the government shutdown.
“It’s so sad as a young adult because I feel powerless,” said Barack.
A major component of the school year for 11th grade students at Madeira is an internship on Capitol Hill. However, because of the government shutdown, many of Madeira’s high school juniors are unable to complete their congressional internships. So school officials restructured the program and students are now studying the government shutdown.
“The juniors affected by the shutdown [are] divided into two groups,” said Ashley Smith, associate director of communications at Madeira. “Group one will research affected monuments, government buildings and federal lands around D.C., while group two will research the more personal impact on tourists, vendors or ‘nonessential’ employees. After some prep in the morning, girls will travel down to the Hill to research and collect content in the form of interviews, photos [and] videos.”
The revised internship plan was created by the co-curriculum department in conjunction with other faculty and staff members. The goal is to help the students gain many of the skills they would have acquired from internships in congressional offices.
School officials hope the students’ research will help them understand the scope of the government shutdown. “The idea behind the project was to make the shutdown come alive for the girls,” said Andre Withers, the assistant head of the school and director of co-curriculum. “It is certainly an inconvenience for their co-curriculum placement as unpaid interns, but we constructed the project so that the girls could see a range of the total impact: effects on the city, a family's disrupted plans for touring D.C., or the visceral feeling of being deemed ‘nonessential’ by the very government that you work for.”
Withers added that the revised program is a skill-based exercise. “We wanted the girls to engage with the public and wade into the public dialogue, to research, to create a narrative and do so in a way that was expressive, artistic and compelling,” he said.
Madeira officials say they are looking forward to seeing how the students respond to the project and the projects they produce.
“I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that hardworking corrections officers and other federal employees will go home without pay,” said Barack. “But it makes me really grateful and aware of my privileges. It makes me want to work that much harder to be part of the solution. It’s not fair for anybody, so everybody needs to accept responsibility and start making changes.”