High School Leaders

HSLP 2015: Day 13 - Thursday, July 23
Jul 23 2015 - 11:52pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 13: Thursday, July 23
Reported by: Ryan Wilson, Tuscarora High School and Josie Bulova, Robinson Secondary School

Having enjoyed an extra hour of sleep, the day began on a positive note. As is now customary, we walked to New Cabell Hall for another day in class with our professor, Marc Johnson. Today, however, something different was in store.

We participated in another General Assembly simulation, “The Budget Game.” After a brief discussion of our takeaways from yesterday’s field trip to Harrisonburg, we transitioned into the task at hand. Eager and intrigued, our group of young leaders listened intently as Mr. Johnson explained the procedures of the upcoming simulation. The objective seemed straightforward enough: with an appropriate combination of spending reductions and revenue enhancements, we were to address a $1 billion shortfall and ultimately arrive at a balanced budget.

We were initially broken into two groups, where 18 students were assigned to the House of Delegates, while the remaining 11 took on the role of state Senators. Unlike our last simulation, we were not assigned a specific legislator to represent, nor did we openly discuss party affiliation. In our respective chambers, we began the activity at 10:30 a.m., and perused each line item of the Commonwealth’s budget. From natural disaster relief appropriations to teacher-pupil ratios, and from income tax rates to the general fund, there was plenty for the students to consider. As group discussions got underway, philosophical discourse over the specifics of the balance sheet quickly ensued. Both chambers arrived at two differing agreements, just before noon.

After a quick break, we moved into a working lunch with our two conference committees, both comprised of proportional numbers of Delegates and Senators. There, we compared the budgets of both chambers, and worked under the constraints of a strict time limit. Finally, each committee arrived at an equitable consensus to present to the full Assembly. Both groups reconvened back in the classroom, and Mr. Johnson reviewed the two budgets, noting their points of contrast. We then had an opportunity to present and defend our committees’ proposals before the class, and address questions from the other side. Despite our best efforts, the simulation ended in gridlock, and we adjourned without a budget. Before retreating back to Bice, we reflected on the day both amongst ourselves and with Mr. Johnson.

Once back at the dormitory, we enjoyed some much-needed downtime before dinner. Some students ventured out to the Corner, while others chose to relax back at Bice and put the finishing touches on their policy projects. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., each group had the opportunity to appear before a panel and conduct a trial run of their presentations. As Cash Arehart, Lauren Gilbert, and the Youth Program Managers listened, we spoke about our proposed legislation and fielded questions and critiques. The remainder of the evening was spent conferring with our groups as we prepared for the big day ahead. Most of us are heading off to bed early as we anticipate our last full day at Sorensen.

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 12 - Wednesday, July 22
Jul 22 2015 - 11:42pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 12: Wednesday, July 23
Reported by: Ahmad Shawwal, Massaponax High School and Virginia Chambers, Maggie Walker Governor’s School

On Day 12, we stepped out of the finite corners of our classroom and traveled into the boundless world around us. Our journey manifested itself in the form of everyone’s favorite pastime—field trips!

The High School Leaders Program class took an exciting trip to Cave View Farm in midst of the summer heat. The farm in Weyers Cave, Va. is 2,000-acre dairy farm managed by Gerald Garber, who graciously took time out of his schedule give us a tour through his facility. At the farm, we embarked on a tour of the dairy operations, meeting cows and horses along the way. Seeing a working farm was a new experience for many of the students, most of whom are city-dwellers or suburbanites. We had a fun and educational excursion as we saw newborn calves and climbed into massive tractors. In addition, Mr. Garber shared his insights on agricultural changes in the past thirty years and enlightened us on his duties as a member on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.

After leaving the farm, the class journeyed to Harrisonburg. There, we were informed about the city’s multifaceted restoration efforts. We had lunch at Capital Ale House with Richard Baugh and Abe Shearer of the Harrisonburg City Council. They gave us unique insight into the functions of local governance. One theme that resonated throughout their comments was the intrinsic link between the small city of Harrisonburg and the not-so-small James Madison University. Both the city and university feed off of each other’s successes and work closely to solve community problems. Currently, the city is investing towards revitalizing its historic areas. Our class witnessed this process during a walking tour of Harrisonburg with Eddie Bumbaugh of the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance project. Mr. Bumbaugh showed us exciting projects like the famed Farmer’s Market, a multi-purpose community facility, and the mesmerizing Museum of American Jewelry Design & Manufacturing in a repurposed ice house.

After exploring Harrisonburg, we traveled to James Madison University, the alma mater of Lauren Gilbert, Director of Programs at the Sorensen Institute. She took us on an informal walking tour that highlighted JMU’s great academic opportunities. As we strolled, Ms. Gilbert explained the unique traditions there, like the famous monolithic limestone known as the “kissing rock”.

With our day over and the sun’s heat in full effect, the class trudged back to the bus. Some slept on the way back to U.Va., while others peered out at the countryside, lost in thought. Upon arriving, we were welcomed by the rising moon. We slept as its milky light quenched the thirst of day.

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 11 - Tuesday, July 21
Jul 21 2015 - 11:01pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 11: Tuesday, July 21
Reported by: Kiera Goddu and Dharaa Rathi, Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School

This morning we woke up bright and early to head to class promptly at 9 a.m. to hear from our first speaker, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo. He had a frank conversation with us about the role of law enforcement and how holding police accountable in a fair way is a much more difficult task than it seems. His levity and directness allowed for a very engaging and productive conversation about the triumphs and shortcomings of policing in a modern era.

Later, we heard from Katy Hurtz who represented vpap.org and presented on campaign finance and transparency, or the lack thereof, in Virginia politics. Her presentation dovetailed into a later discussion in class over the validity and feasibility of campaign finance reform in the nation and the Commonwealth.

As our policy presentations are fast approaching we were all schooled in some presentation tactics from our lovely YPMs and their BuzzFeed-inspired PowerPoint.

Our final speaker of the day was Max Burns from Change.org, who shattered some dreams of working in the White House by age 25, but managed to dish out some “real talk” about careers in politics and communication. He also reassured us that Facebook experience (within reason) is an applicable work skill.

After returning to the dorms, exhausted, we all started work on our policy projects as our rough drafts are due at midnight! With graduation in sight on Saturday and a field trip on the docket for tomorrow everyone can’t wait to get some much needed sleep after these projects are finished. 

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 10 - Monday, July 20
Jul 20 2015 - 11:22pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 10: Monday, July 20
Reported by: Spencer Gilbert, George C. Marshall High School

We started off this week with a bang as we went straight into talking about policy with Mr. Johnson. Even though everyone was slightly groggy from the weekend, we were all fully engaged as we talked about policy diagrams and how an idea either does or does not come to fruition as policy. While before we were able to determine whether a policy was good or not, we are now able to determine if the political and national climate is right for a policy to be implemented. We were also taught how to make our policies appeal to both parties, which is easier said than done. Mr. Johnson then had us split off into our focus groups to apply the models to our policy projects to test their viability in the current political climate.

We kicked off lunch at 12 p.m. with some delicious Jason’s Deli pasta. We all dispersed into different lounges and continued our lunch, but a large amount of Starbucks was brought back, which pleased almost everyone (especially Ronak). Everyone proceeded back to the classroom as our first guest speaker, Barbara Kessler, arrived. She educated us on how to form a better resume, with an emphasis on big accomplishments in our life!

Then we were introduced to Chris Monioudis, who is a constituent services representative to Sen. Mark Warner. He works very closely with Sen. Warner in order to make sure Virginia is represented the right way in the U.S. Senate. He taught us about what he does and how to hear the concerns of the people of Virginia, even the ones who are very passionate about an issue. He went into detail on topics such as he different forms of communications Sen. Warner receives from constituents and the Senator's views on the recently negotiated deal with Iran.

We then heard from Alexsis Rodgers from Virginia21, an “action tank” dedicated to lobbying the General Assembly on issues that are important to young people. Ms. Rodgers spoke about her organization’s efforts to help make college more affordable, end sexual assault on college campuses, and ensure voting rights for students by allowing them to use their college ID when they go to vote.

After returning to the dorms and having dinner, most of us split up into our policy groups to work on revising our preliminary reports. At one point during the evening, someone asked Cash if they could borrow his HDMI cable so that we could enjoy a movie together in the lounge. Cash agreed, so long as everyone got together in John’s room and sang (I've Had) The Time of My Life. It was a truly fitting end to what has been a memorable first half of the program! 

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 9 - Sunday, July 19
Jul 19 2015 - 11:36pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 9: Sunday, July 19
Reported by: Nadine Lin, Douglas S. Freeman High School and Hugh Halsey, Christchurch School.

It was barely the start of the day (1:20 a.m.) when we were roused by an inconvenient cacophony that filled the halls of Bice House. As the fire alarm blared and the lights flashed, the groggy students stumbled their way out of the building oblivious to the situation at hand. Within minutes, a team of Charlottesville police and firemen managed to turn the alarm off. Relieved, we were ushered back to their dorms knowing that if anything, the fire alarms worked.

Despite, and maybe in part because of, the non-incident in the wee hours of the morning, our sleep stretched into the 9-hour range. Slumber, combined with brunch, made for happy students. A mysterious “fundatory” activity was soon to follow at half past noon. As we were separated into four groups, we learned that the “fundatory” activity was in fact two activities: a trivia game and a scavenger hunt. During the trivia component, students tested their knowledge on the topics of “Isn’t it a Capitol Idea? (D.C. Trivia),” “Isn’t Every Day Presidents’ Day? (Presidents),” and “All Politics Local (Virginia).” We learned more about history and politics through this trivia and reinforced what he had learned previously in the Virginia Capitol.

The second component was a scavenger hunt outside in the blazing, sunny, Charlottesville day. Given a time limit of 90 minutes to complete our activities—oddities ranging from telling knock knock jokes to strangers to experiencing some of the best parts the University of Virginia—we were challenged to fill our sheets with check marks. The scavenger hunt challenged groups and strengthened teamwork; all members were required to stay together while collecting proof during hunt. After 90 minutes of madly running around under the hot sun, we eventually walked back to Bice out of breath and exhausted. After long calculations, with each team vying for the win, Cash Arehart treated the winners of the competition to the privilege of pieing the Youth Program Managers. Regardless of their placement, each team had the delight of seeing their Youth Program Managers battered by whipped cream.

As the day began to wind down, we all began to focus on our policy projects and readings at hand for the next day. We began to look at our topics from a different perspective as we analyzed our sources and wrote our letters to editors and legislators. At the end of the day, we went to bed tired from the activities of the day, but prepared for our classes in the morning. 

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 8 - Saturday, July 18
Jul 18 2015 - 11:03pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 8: Saturday, July 18
Reported by: Kyle Campbell, Salem High School and Elizabeth Rountree, Douglas S. Freeman High School

The morning started out later than usual, as class didn’t start till 10 a.m. The morning half of the General Assembly Simulation started out with each party going to caucus. In the caucuses the two parties were to determine what type of legislation to promote and what their party platform was going to be.

In the Democratic Caucus first elected a minority leader and a party whip. After the election of those two positions, they appointed the party treasurer and secretary. During the Republican caucus, they split up which senators were to report to which committee. There were three total committees, and only one was in the Democrats' control. The three committees were Government Services, Redistribution, and Regulation.

The Government Services committee was a wild one! After debate on four bills, a brave Senator Edwards motioned to remove fellow Democrat Senator Alexander from the position of chair of the committee. The motion went through successfully and a new chair was elected, only this time it was a Republican, Senator McWaters. That was completely opposite of what was intended to happen and the Democrats lost control of the only committee they had a majority in. After much heated debate and another attempt to remove the chair of the Government Services, the Senators got lunch. The Senators ate their boxed lunches from Jason’s Deli and continued to push and fight for and against bills.

After the committee phase the Senators had roughly 15 minutes to deliberate with their fellow Senators before they went back to caucus.

After committee meetings this afternoon, we took the passed bills back to our caucus to discuss them. While meeting in our caucuses, we talked about how we wanted to proceed with the session. The Republican Caucus relied on their majority leader and Lieutenant Governor to place the bills in the approved order. In the meantime the rest of us discussed which bills to pass and which bills to kill. The Republican Caucus tried to guarantee that the Republican bills would pass, but compromised to let some of the more bipartisan bills pass from the Democratic Party. Then we continued on by meeting in the session. We discussed and voted on several bills, which the great "Governor Arehart" vetoed. After an extended period of time which included lots of notes, some yelling, and "jiggery, pokery, and pure applesauce," we managed to end passing seven bills. Most were passed unanimously or nearly so. Finally, we ended the school day by reflecting on what we learned from the experience.

After returning to the dorms, we were treated to Mellow Mushroom pizza for dinner. It was a huge hit among all of us! Later on, we all gathered downstairs for a movie night. And ended the night by getting to stay up extra late because John, our Youth Program Manager, is awesome. Overall, it was an great day! 

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 7 - Friday, July 17
Jul 17 2015 - 11:54pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 7: Friday, July 18
Reported by: Angus Dawson, Douglas S. Freeman High School, and Jordyn Kent, Maggie L. Walker Governor's School

As yet another long day comes to an end, it leaves us with moments of enlightenment, frustration, and hilarity. From coffee spills to Obamacare, and from hour-late lunches to online redistricting games, we’ve learned that the only thing we can ever really do is M.A.R.F. (Maintain Absolute Rigid Flexibility) it on up.

Today’s 9-to-5 was packed full of guest speakers that imparted their wisdom to us. Our first guest was JoAnn Auger who talked with us for a solid two hours (in the fuzzy, sleep-deprived haze of the morning) about Myers-Briggs types and emotional intelligence. Her insight gave us the tools we need to better understand one another’s personalities and strengthened the bonds within our policy groups.

A representative from State Farm named Gary Albert joined us to discuss regulatory policy from a financial perspective and impart years worth of experience onto us. We learned about Roth IRAs and investment portfolios even though the Department of Labor says we’re supposed to pay him for his financial planning expertise.

After Mr. Albert’s visit, lunch mysteriously failed to arrive, so Cash spoke to the group about public speaking and presentation, including the "Four P’s" (Purpose, Plan, Presence, and Phollow Up) and the previously mentioned “M.A.R.F.” Then lunch arrived from Chipotle, but many of us discovered to our dismay that our orders were completely incorrect.

We were then visited by Beau Blevins, the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Virginia Association of Counties, who illustrated the relationships between local and state governments and discussed the implications of Dillon’s Rule.

Next we heard from Hayley Lawrence of OneVirginia2021. Hayley described the purpose of OneVirginia2021: to pass legislation establishing an independent, nonpartisan board to redistrict the Commonwealth fairly, reducing or even eliminating gerrymandering. She also stressed the importance of fair redistricting.

At the end of the day in class, we heard from Ross Airington, the health policy analyst at the VCU Medical Center and an expert on the Affordable Care Act. He described in detail the effects of the ACA, but lightened the load of such a dense topic by being absolutely hysterical (for instance, his Xbox gamertag is XxLOLobamacarexX).

As the day came to a close, everyone split off to play ultimate frisbee, explore the Corner, or work on their policy projects. With the sunset and the end of our seventh day at the Sorensen Institute came sighs of relief and the general feeling of contentment as we look forward to the coming weekend. 

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 6 - Thursday, July 16
Jul 16 2015 - 11:59pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 6: Thursday, July 17
Reported by: Giovana De Oliveira, J.R. Tucker High School and Ellen Yates, Charlottesville High School

Lessons are hard. Often they are unwelcome. They mean determined concentration, ample effort when you have little energy left to give, and perseverance in every area of the subject at hand—and we had two today.

One, of course, was a matter of of learning the complexities of Virginia’s intricate political system, challenge enough amidst the the flood of history and politics we’ve already received (one might liken it to drinking out of a fire hose).

The second subject was more a lesson in human nature. Creating the beginnings of a law seemed unreasonably easy before we realized that policy is hardly ever sweeping reform, and our opinions as a class are extraordinarily diverse. These lessons, however, were unknown to us as we crawled from bed this morning.

At 8 a.m. we Sorensen students dragged our fatigued bodies across the room. Outfits were being coordinated amongst roommates, breakfast cereals were rapidly consumed, and everyone was indulging in as much caffeine as possible (the previous night having been a late one for the majority of us). The third level of Bice was buzzing with excitement as we headed down to the first floor. Armed with new information from the previous day’s trip to Richmond and led by our ever-devoted Youth Program Managers, we trooped to class to begin the third session of "The Informed and Thoughtful Citizen" with Mr. Johnson.

We had a variety guest speakers today. One was Sean Holihan from Anvil Strategies. He gave us crucial advice on how to improve our public policy projects, including ideas regarding demographics in Virginia as well as regional impacts that would facilitate the passing of legislation. He also suggested we narrow our focus in order to make our policy projects more manageable and feasible.

Our second speaker was Howard Hoege from 3H3 Leadership. He tapped into the passionate and personal aspect of public policy. He shared anecdotes about his own journey serving in the military and how that experience impacted his perspective on policy issues. Hoege had us share the issues we were passionate about and what triggered that passion, opening the class up to the importance of personal motivations and experiences in politics.

Next we broke into focus groups to share our policy ideas with classmates from separate policy project groups. The idea was that we could each listen to the other proposals and share constructive criticism. Needless to say, a group of strong personalities passionately discussing controversial issues was trying at times, but as always at Sorensen, the conversation remained civil, if impassioned. No one of us is remotely the same, so evidently neither are our ideas, but I think this difference consistently enriches and improves our experience of the program and of each other.

When class adjourned, we headed back to Bice for scrumptious Southern comfort in the form of BBQ (Thank you, Harvest Moon Catering!), only to subsequently clamber into our business professional attire for headshots in the surprisingly dry evening.

After pictures, we dispersed out onto the U.Va. Grounds and surrounding area. Some decided to go to the store and buy ice cream, others went to the Corner, and a few studious individuals stayed inside to work on writing bills in preparation for our upcoming Virginia Senate simulation.

As we crawl into our warm beds, we think about the lessons we learned today: the structural complexities of Virginia’s government, what it means to be a leader, the art of mastering specificity in writing a bill, and the skill of insightfulness when dealing with opposing views. As we close our heavy eyelids, we wonder what tomorrow holds in store for us. 

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 5 - Wednesday, July 15
Jul 15 2015 - 11:59pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 5: Wednesday, July 15
Reported by: Christina Shaw, Patriot High School and Jack Salm, Broadwater Academy

The day started at 6 a.m. with a frantic rush to catch the bus. It was a long ride to Richmond, and everyone spent the time napping. We arrived at the Capitol half asleep, but soon settled in to listen to speakers in Senate Room 3.

Our first speakers were Felix Sarfo-Kantanka, legislative director for Gov. McAuliffe, and Jeff Britt of McGuireWoods Consulting. They spoke about the different aspects of lobbying, and compared the public and private sector. After them was Brian Coy, the Governor's communications director. Levar Stoney, Secretary of the Commonwealth, talked about campaigning and the requirements of his job.

After lunch, legislative aides Jameson Babb and Abbey Phillips talked with us about the work LAs do and about interning for campaigns.

On our tour of the Capitol, we ran into Gov. Terry McAuilffe and he took selfies with us. We then toured the Governor's Mansion, where we met Finnigan, the Governor's dog, as well as the his chickens. We then spent a few minutes taking pictures on the Capitol steps. We got on the bus with energy and knowledge, ready to return to Charlottesville.

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

HSLP 2015: Day 3 - Monday, July 13
Jul 13 2015 - 11:02pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2015
Day 3: Monday, July 13
Reported by: Ronak Chopra, South Lakes High School, and Cat Johnson, Charlottesville High School

Although we woke up to grey clouds and rain, our day was anything but gloomy.

At 8:40 a.m. we headed out to our first class, Ethics in Leadership, taught by Lauren Gilbert. We discussed different types of ethical dilemmas, different philosophies used to make decisions, and how ethics can affect one in life and in politics. We learned that an ethical dilemma is choosing between “right vs. right” instead of “right vs. wrong.”

At twelve, we took a break for lunch. We had a delicious assortment of pastas, salads, and desserts. During lunch we broke into different groups based on the regions of Virginia and discussed things we thought our community and Virginia as a whole does well and things they could work on. When we got back together we narrowed down what we thought Virginia could work on and different themes for the policy project.

After that it was time to meet our professor: Mr. Marc Johnson. His lecture was an in-depth analysis of Virginia's demographics. After he finished we discussed whether Virginia was a blue or red state, and why. After heated debate, we were dismissed and returned to Bice House, where we ate and relaxed before a fundatory game of charades.

Look for more photos of our day coming soon on the Sorensen Facebook page.

Featured Alumni

  • Jesse Ferguson.jpg

    Jesse Ferguson

    Political Leaders Program

    Class of 2004

    Jesse serves as the Communications Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

    He was Brian Moran's Chief of Staff during Moran's tenure as Democratic Caucus Chairman in the Virginia House of Delegates and was also the communications director on Moran’s Democratic primary campaign for Governor. Jesse is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and a co-founder and former Executive Director of Virginia21.