Every year, students between the ages of 14 and 17 travel to the Capitol Building in Olympia to serve the Washington State Legislature as pages.
These students spend a week in Olympia running documents between legislators and legislative staff, but they’re more than just file runners. Along with their delivery duties, pages also participate in a development program called page school.
“When they’re not doing duties such as delivering and working on the floor, they get to go visit things such as the State Supreme Court,” said Joe Jackson, with the Majority Coalition Caucus.
In the page school process, the students learn about how government works and about the legislative process in Washington state.
Central Kitsap High School sophomore Brittany Mills acted as page to the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate Tim Sheldon in February. Sen. Sheldon’s district mostly covers Mason County but dips into Kitsap County, going as far as Highway 3 near Chico.
Brittany transferred at the beginning of the school year from Klahowya, citing the high school’s impressive AP program as one reason. She lives in Seabeck, inside the northeastern portion of Sheldon’s district.
Because Sen. Sheldon was busy with legislative business, Brittany said she was only supposed to meet with him for five minutes, but the two ended up talking for nearly half an hour. According to Brittany, Sheldon took her on a tour of the Capitol.
“It was way longer than I expected,” she said. “He told me a couple stories about things that had happened in the capitol building.”
Sheldon was one of two Democrats earlier this year to join Republicans in the Legislature and form the Majority Coalition Caucus, with 25 votes, over the Democrats’ 24.
From Feb. 10 to 15, Brittany worked for Sheldon and the senate. She and 19 other high-school students arrived in Olympia that Sunday to get the layout of the capitol campus and go through a crash course of their duties.
“On Monday morning they hit the ground running,” Jackson said.
The students stay with host families in Olympia and work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day until their duties are complete Friday evening.
“One of the things (I did) was running errands in the legislative building,” Brittany said. “That was my favorite part of it … there wasn’t really a slow moment.”
During the fifth week of the legislative session, Brittany and the other pages were able to sit in on a State Supreme Court hearing, Dean v. Fishing Company of Alaska.
Seeing the court in person gave Brittany a perspective she would not have received otherwise, she said.
“I thought the people would be arguing with the judge and the judge would have to silence them,” Brittany said. “The Supreme Court hearing was very organized and professional.”
During her time in the state’s capitol, Brittany met a number of other students in the page program. The 20 pages spent much of the week together, working on errands or learning as a group about the legislative process.
“I actually became really good friends with a lot of them just over the week,” she said. “The day after I got back I went on (Facebook) and three people had already sent friend requests.”
Brittany said she hopes to attend Brigham Young University after high school. She wants to go to medical school but said music is her true passion. She already plays the flute, trombone and piano and is learning the guitar. However, she said, the piano is her favorite.
A turn-of-the-century piano sits in the legislature’s reception room, Brittany said, and she was allowed to play it momentarily during her visit. She played a piece she had composed herself.
“For how old it is, it sounded really beautiful,” she said.
Pages perform a number of duties and gain a new perspective on state government during their week in Olympia. For Brittany, she said one of the most eye-opening experiences was when she and the other pages had to craft their own mock bill.
“It was not at all what I expected,” she said. “I had a basic understanding of the legislature and how that worked, but it was pretty different. Like when we got to make our own bill — there’s a lot more to the process than I thought. It’s really hard.”