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High School Leaders
High School Leaders Program Class of 2010
Day 2-Sunday, July 11
Recorded by: Maggie Chambers, Ashland
Before I start this Newsroom post for our second day at the Sorensen Institute’s High School Leaders Program, there’s something I should mention: I am pretty terrified of falling, ladders, and heights. As my 25 classmates and I got up for the first full day of Sorensen, I was filled with trepidation, becasue the Poplar Ridge Ropes Course we were scheduled to attend would undoubtedly contain all three. Looking back at our day now, I don’t think that at that point in the morning any of us really knew how hard we’d work today, or how much closer we would get as a group.
After the seemingly endless walk (for the tired teenagers, that is), we met our guides: Scott, Chris, and Julian. They led us through the goals for the day’s program and a few somewhat awkward exercises to get closer to our Sorensen classmates, cheering for and talking to people that we hardly knew. Following this, we were split into two groups, based on various preferences, to become our two teams: the Robot Unicorns and the Flying Dutchmen. As a member of the latter team, I’m pretty confident in my ability to declare us the superior of the two. My group started with several exercises designed to build our trust in each other on the ground, and then moved on to something much bigger and scarier–the “Y.” True to its name, this was a Y-shaped wire high above the ground, which two people would have to climb up to and go across together, aided only by a belay team and two ropes.
My roommate Chelsea and I decided to go up the Y together, despite balance problems and aforementioned fears on both our parts. It took what seemed like forever, but we made it (despite several almost-falls), thanks to the encouragement of our teammates and each other. By the time I was blessedly on solid ground, I couldn't believe I’d done the Y, and I was incredibly glad that I had such supportive classmates, despite knowing them for less than 48 hours. Finally after more team-building activities, including one “helium pole” that proved impossible to get down, it was time for a lunch break.
After a nice lunch of sandwiches, chips, and much-coveted chocolate chip cookies, we were back to the ropes for more challenging activities. We started off with Nessie, a course where two people climbed up a pole, then crossed through the air on balancing beams pulled by classmates below. This proved very difficult, and it took a lot of trial and error for the team to figure it out, but by the time Mary Gray and I crossed, our classmates had figured out the literal and figurative ropes of Nessie. After that terrifying experience, we did more activities, from fitting our 13-person team onto one small block to crossing a “river of lava” with only 3 planks to get us from block to block while blindfolded.
Finally, it was time for the swing–a free-falling pendulum starting 35 feet in the air. I went first, just so I wouldn’t have any time to get more nervous. After a nervewracking pull to the top, I pulled out the pin that was keeping me suspended in the air and flew to the ground with a scream. Though the first two seconds of that fall were the most terrifying ones of my life, by the time I was on the upswing I loved it. My teammates were a little less loud during the fall on their turns, but we all shared the consensus that it was one of the most fun experiences we’d had.
After everyone had a turn and we did one last bonding activity with the Robot Unicorns, the HSLP class of 2010 was ready to head home to Bice for showers, dinner, reading, and just hanging out. When I first realized I’d have to go on a high-ropes course for this program, I was sure I’d chicken out and would be promptly mocked by the rest of my class. Oh, how wrong I was! Our experiences at Poplar Ridge brought us closer together as friends and as a class. I think that we wholeheartedly did get to know each other better, trust each other, and respect each person no matter how much they wanted to challenge themselves. Based on our experience today, I am really looking forward to two weeks with these amazing people!
High School Leaders Program Class of 2010
Day 1-Saturday, July 10
Recorded by: Nikki Baily, Rustburg
Today was the first day of my experience at the Sorensen Institute at UVA. Although I was apprehensive about meeting my roommate and unsure of what to expect from the program, my fears were immediately calmed after I entered Bice House. I was welcomed with a smiling face from April Auger, the Director of Programs, and I soon met some of my peers who seemed just as enthusiastic about our two week enrichment program as I was. After an hour of unpacking, my classmates and I took a brief tour of the campus that will be our home for the next fourteen days. We visited our classroom, followed by a walk to Edgar Allen Poe’s room, and then we strolled by the famous Lawn, everyone chatting and exchanging polite greetings throughout the entire walk.
After our tour of the grounds, my peers and I all headed down to the basement of Bice House. We were greeted by massive binders filled with the reading for our upcoming classes. After the program leaders gave a quick review of the rules of the Sorensen Institute, the group played the “Super Sweet Sorensen Bingo”. Unlike regular bingo, these squares were filled with questions, and to “cover a space” players had to find a classmate who was the answer to questions designed for us to become better acquainted. Although I didn’t win, I enjoyed getting to learn more about my fellow classmates while playing the game.
After playing Bingo, we did an exercise that evaluated what ideas and images people generally associate with various political parties. Some were positive and others were negative, but not a single person wanted to claim all of the traits in any political party, showing that a label can’t express all of an individual’s ideas.
We also had the incredible honor of having a speaker, Mr. Preston Bryant, on our first day of the program. Mr. Bryant served in the Lynchburg City Council, was a member of the House of Delegates for ten years, and recently served in former Governor Tim Kaine’s cabinet as the Secretary of Natural Resources. Mr. Bryant welcomed us to the Sorensen Institute and opened his discussion with facts about the various levels of government, stating “Local government is the level of government that impacts an individual the most on a daily basis.” He then proceeded to discuss the recent BP oil spill and indicated that he has high hopes for new forms of energy such as wind and nuclear power. Mr. Bryant also spoke about illegal immigration and the health care reform, encouraging us to participate and voice our opinions on the issues.
After dinner, we were divided into groups and played another game, this time, a memory one. After having tons of laughs with my classmates about how bad we were at this game, we all were surprised with some delicious ice cream, a wonderful end to a fabulous first day at the Sorensen Institute!
College Leaders Program Class of 2010
Day 17—Tuesday, June 15
Reported by: Ramon Gamble, Virginia Commonwealth University
“The default setting of American politics is conflict.” This is the message our class was left to think about as our session ended yesterday, and it is the one thought that has been running through my head since then.
Over the last two weeks, my classmates and I have been asked to keep in mind the creed of this program, and to continually contemplate the “core” values of the Sorensen Institute: trust, respect, and civility. And upon graduation, exercise these values to make an attempt to move beyond partisanship. I’ve sat through a little over 40 speakers (It’s incredible how many speakers we’ve been able to hear in only 19 days.), and not one has openly talked about the necessity of conflict in politics. In fact, I can’t recall even one who hasn’t insisted that he or she has persistently aligned themselves with the core values we are being taught to manifest in Sorensen. This is interesting. To echo some of the talk I overheard on our bus, as we were leaving the capital this afternoon, “Isn’t it a little weird that every single speaker we’ve had so far fully supports ‘bi-partisanship,’ yet as soon as you turn on a TV, or read a newspaper, or bring up a blog all you will ever hear is how much these guys are fighting with each other?” Yes. It is weird indeed.
I asked Senator Warner what he thought about the confrontational overtones Madison wove into his contributions to the Federalist Papers, particularly No. 51. His response was typical of our speakers thus far. He verbalized that there must continue to be some kind of combative discourse—for opposition is a healthy and necessary part of legislating. The real problem, he said, “is the 24/7 coverage of the media.” He argued that the media was doing our nation a disservice by solely focusing its lens on cases of inter-party strife, effectively demonically distorting day-to-day politics.
There seems to be a consensus among the politicians we have hosted: “the media is bad,” specifically the “24/7” media—referring primarily to TV. Now, I rarely watch TV, so the blatant anti-TV trolling I’ve experienced has been quite shocking. It generally goes like this: “The availability of an incessant news stream forces media outlets to continually one-up themselves. And the only way to continually catch the attention of viewers is to become increasingly provocative. The increased provocativeness consequently transforms political news into entertainment news. And because politics is reduced to entertainment it is viewed as trivial by the masses.”
But is it really the media’s fault that our generation can’t seem to be concerned with politics? Who knows? This week we start our “Media 101” class modules. Hopefully Coy can impart some substantial information on this subject.
The Sorensen Institute is proud to announce the members of the High School Leaders Program Class of 2010, which will take place on grounds at the University of Virginia from July 10-July 24. Congratulations to each one of you and we'll see you in July!
Nikki Bailey, Rustburg
Jerome Barnette, Chase City
Benjamin Broman, Fredericksburg
Margaret Chambers, Ashland
Adam Cohn, Richmond
Alexis Davis, Chester
Helm Dobbins, Danville
Catherine Emblidge, Richmond
Logan Ferrell, Midlothian
Locher Grove, Roanoke
Benjamin Harris, Grundy
John Janousek, Yorktown
Mary Gray Johnson, Fredericksburg
Holly Johnston, Danville
Jacob Kaufman-Waldron, Charlottesville
Ashleigh Lanza, Woodbridge
Cari Lutkins, Potomac Falls
Brooks Mears, Suffolk
Matthew Mirliani, Alexandria
Brendan Muha, Oakton
Nicole Patterson, Newport News
Ethan Pompeo, Charlottesville
Maxwell Potter, Charlottesville
Allison Reid; Herndon, VA
Jeffrey Smith, Richmond
Gabrielle Stiff, Newport News
Chelsea Stokes, Glen Allen
Andrew Teitelbaum, Arlington
Sarah Wooten, Woodbridge
Chosen by her classmates to speak for the HSLP 09 graduates, Ali Sutherland really shared from the heart when she expressed so eloquently what the Sorensen experience meant to her. Ali was introduced by Sorensen's Marc Johnson (CLP 03).
High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 14— Friday, July 24
Reported by: Ben Swanson, Vienna
After a week of 7:30 AM wake ups, 8 hour classes, and a budget game that almost drove us apart, we got to sleep in. Wake up time? 9 AM! But the extra sleep was not the highlight of the morning; today was the grand finale of our Sorensen experience. At about 10 AM the thirty of us trudged across the lawn, ready to persuade a panel of judges that our policies were the best options that the government had in terms of fixing-up our dear commonwealth. It may have been the effort we put into our papers, the hours we had spent in the library, or the classy business professional attire we wore into the Rotunda; whatever it was, it worked. We sailed through the presentations in about two hours and with a sigh of relief, we trudged onward to the classroom for our very last round of speakers.
After a quick lunch of Chick-Fil-A, we met with Steven Jones, a graduate of Longwood University and the executive director of Virginia 21. After telling us a couple of anecdotes about his experiences with Sorensen, he got down to business and explained what Virginia 21 was. Essentially, Virginia 21 is a student organization that encourages the young generation to become informed about the issues that are influencing the way we live our lives. They are a partisan-neutral "action tank" that gets students the facts and turns regular voters into active citizens. With branches all over the state in Universities and Community Colleges, Virginia 21 is "acting today to shape tomorrow".
Next we met with Dave Norris, the mayor of Charlottesville. He gave us a new perspective on how the local community is effected by policy enacted on the local level of government. People tend to overlook the local government, he explained, and it's a good voter turnout even if only 25% of the electorate turns out on election day to help elect local officials. He seemed like a great guy and I truly wish him luck as he runs for re-election in the near future.
The rest of the day consisted of our traditional game of Ultimate Disc on the lawn. It was a huge turnout, and I even got to play with some people that I hadn't had the chance to interact with very much during the last two weeks.
I've just realized that this is the last newsroom blog that will be written for our HSLP class 2009. I've got to make this a good wrap-up, but I'm kind of scared that I won't be able to put into words what I really think about the last two weeks. They have been amazing. Pulling into Bice Hall in my mom's car, I was curious about the kind of people I would meet and the kind of memories I would take away from this program. But after the first two days, I knew it would be two of the best weeks of my life. I have taken advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime and I will be proud to wear my Sorensen pin around whenever I throw on my suit. Aside from the political side of this program I have made some incredible friends, run harder for a frisbee than I ever did for my school bus, laughed harder than I did all year, and walked down to the UVa Corner just to grab some Ice cream and feel Charlottesville. I tried to think of things to criticize when I filled out my end of the program survey, but I came up with nothing. This has been an incredible ride and I know everyone is going to miss this place as much as I already do.
—Ben Swanson, Vienna
High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 13— Thursday, July 23
Reported by: Corrigan Blanchfield, Williamsburg
Today we said goodbye to our beloved second-story classroom in Thornton Hall. Though two weeks of little-to-no sleep may have had an effect on some, this concluding class was one of our most involved and exciting, allowing us to forget how much we would like to be in bed.
In class, we split into groups and analyzed accounts of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)'s transformation into the No Child Left Behind Act. After that, we discussed under which circumstances the federal government should intervene to keep a business from failing, using bailouts of Lockheed and Chrysler as examples. After the final section of our “The Thoughtful Citizen” class, we adjourned for lunch and then reconvened for the Budget Game. Similar to a Model United Nations conference, we split into two groups, the House of Delegates and the Senate to prepare and balance a state budget, starting with a mandatory deficit of $1 billion. While the House quickly prepared their budget, the Senate took quite a bit of time, essentially slashing spending across the board to avoid an income tax hike. After each house prepared its own budget, we divided into two conference committees to iron out differences. Finally, we came back together and voted between the two final budget proposals, the first of which was passed.
We were able to leave Thornton because we had finished the Budget Game quickly, so we hurried to Bice to practice our presentations for our culminating project. At 7:00, we presented our projects to the floor managers and received a lot of helpful feedback. Each of the managers offered great advice, making the groups feel much more prepared for tomorrow's presentations. After that, it was back to work to finalize our projects, since we're presenting them starting at 10:00 AM tomorrow before our classmates, our teachers, and others who have not yet been revealed.
All that remains for us now is the presentation, which I must admit has me more than a little worried. It's hard to believe that Sorensen is nearing it's end, even though I can hardly remember when I first met my roommates on the 11th. However, I think that what we've learned here and the contacts we've made will last long beyond Saturday's graduation.
—Corrigan Blanchfield, Williamsburg
High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 13— Thursday, July 23
Reported by: Catherine Haley, Danville
After two full weeks of class and speakers, today we had our last official day of class. The effects of sleep deprivation caught up with some, but despite the nodding off, our last class was an effective and heated one to say the least.
The first half of class with Professor Bragaw began with the question “What did you find surprising or difficult about forming a policy?” Since we have been working on our culminating project and preparing policy proposals, the class all tended to agree that we did not realize proposing policies was as difficult as it turned out to be. The complexities and compromises needed to form these proposals was indeed a surprise. I know without the help of our project manager, Joe, my education group would have not become aware of some problems and complexities that our proposal had. After this, the class split into groups and worked on case studies. The education case study we did dealt with the change of education over the years from the NESA to the No Child Left Behind Act. Each group was assigned questions to analyze the change and what contributed that change.
We finished with about 20 minutes to spare before lunch, so Marc and Professor Bragaw explained how the “Budget Game” would work. The class was split into the House of Delegates and the Senate. During lunch we decided on spending, reductions, and revenue options. I was in the House of Delegates and Corrigan and Whitney were nominated to be the chair and the recorder. After about an hour of debate over tax cuts and spending we completed our proposed budget. On the other hand, the Senate took quite a long time to come to a consensus on their budget. Next, each group was split into two “conferences.” My conference consisted of six senators and ten delegates. The House presented their proposed budget, and then the Senate presented theirs. To our surprise we agreed on more than we thought we would— although the things we did not agree on took some time to sort out. After about an hour of heated debate, we accomplished the goal of a balanced budget. The entire class reconvened and each group presented their proposed budget. Finally, the entire class voted on which budget they preferred and…budget A won! (which just so happened to be the group I was in).
After a day in the classroom, we returned back to Bice to eat dinner and prepare for our practice project presentations. Each group would present their project to the project managers and April. We were warned that we would be “grilled” with questions to prepare us for the real thing.
It is hard to believe that these two weeks are coming to an end, but the friends we have made and the lessons we have learned will be ones that will last forever. Tomorrow is the big day for the much-anticipated projects presentations, but I am certain everyone will do great!
—Catherine Haley, Danville
High School Leaders Program Class of 2009
Day 12— Wednesday July 22
Reported By: Trevor Langan of Patrick Henry High School, Roanoke
This morning my alarm clock woke me up properly, rather than yesterday when it failed to go off. However, today’s alarm was earlier than most for today was our field trip to Richmond. In fact, all of us woke up on time and loaded the bus in business professional attire before our executive director, Bob Gibson.
Once we got to the Capitol Building, we made our way through security (but not before my tie clip set off the metal detector) and into a committee chamber which became our lecture room for the day.
Our first speaker was Don Hall – the most successful lobbyist in Richmond. Don represents the Virginia Auto Dealer Association (for the purpose of full disclosure, Mr. Hall drives a Corvette Z06). He gave an enthusiastic presentation in which he repeatedly stated, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”
Our next speaker was Ms. Lucy Hutchinson from the office of gubernatorial appointments. She gave a talk about her position and how students my age can serve on a number of different committees in youth positions.
Next, we were joined by Randy Marcus – chief of staff for the office of Lieutenant Governor, Bill Bolling. He concentrated his discussion on campaigning, by request of Mr. Gibson. I found his talk to be informative to the specifics of campaign advertising.
After lunch, we were treated to a tour of the Capitol by a very charismatic guide. He explained the history of the building that was designed in Paris by Mr. Thomas Jefferson. While in Presidents’ Hall, he told us that any of us who become president can have our own bust sit amongst the ones already decorating the walls.
Following the tour, we made our way back to the lecture hall. Three more speakers came and joined us – Pat Mullins, Attorney General Bill Mims, and Will Frank. Pat, chair of the Republican party of Virginia, spurred an intense discussion during his Q&A.
As exciting as the events I’ve so far described may have seen, I failed to mention the most momentous one of all. During lunch, our wonderful program managers quickly came to rush us back into the committee room. There was a rumor that a certain someone was in the building and may be stopping by to say “hello.” That someone turned out to be the Democratic candidate for the office of the governor – Sen. Creigh Deeds. We were so glad to be able to ask a few questions and to shake his hand. He gives the impression of a genuine person who really wants to help the citizens of the Commonwealth. I heard many of my peers wish him good luck in the upcoming election.
—Trevor Langan, Roanoke