HSLP 2013: Day 14 - Friday, July 5
Jul 5 2013 - 11:54pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2013
Day 14: Friday, July 5
Reported by: Rachel Lim, and Deep Run High School and Nicole Jackson, Maggie L. Walker Governor's School

After a night’s worth of preparation and practice, the day of our long-awaited final policy project presentations had arrived. In the midst of crafting practical legislation to address the Commonwealth’s most pressing issues, we all took this morning to reflect on and share all of what we had learned through the creation of our proposed bills with each other and our distinguished panelists. This morning we realized that through the whirlwind of a storm Sorensen proved to be, we needed to take a minute to truly stop and appreciate the work we and our classmates have put into our projects. Although nervous for our question and answer periods held after each of our respective group presentations, we all felt tremendous relief in knowing that we had successfully achieved our goals.

After all the presentations and a little bit of time to hug and give compliments to one another, we walked to Olsson Hall for the very last time. Ms. Colleen Smith, the Director of Development, gave a speech about what we could potentially do to help with recruitment and fundraising as Sorensen alumni. We also heard a few powerful words from our fellow peers about the power of financial aid and the opportunities it affords hardworking, talented students. Next, we held an election for class president and speaker for our graduation ceremony, which was heartfelt and sincere, leaving everyone in the audience misty-eyed by the end. Every candidate gave us a whole-hearted, unforgettable speech which made us realize how much we were taking away from the program, including 29 amazing friends and dozens of mentors.

Following our last class session with Mr. Johnson, we had a few moments to get ready for our last dinner together as a group at local restaurant Horse & Hound. In addition to the gourmet salads, crisp fries, and hearty ribs, what really made this dinner special was the company. Relishing in making our last memories together, we laughed and cheered over the handing out of our superlatives. From seeing who was awarded “best smile”, to who might “quietly take over the world” one day, we savored our last meal together as the Sorensen class of 2013. Later that evening was the first annual talent show, where both students and staff graced us with their singing, rap, and dance skills, along with humorous impressions of other students and amazing beatboxing skills! The talent show again proved how extraordinarily talented we are as group, in more ways than we had ever known!

HSLP 2013: Day 13 - Thursday, July 4
Jul 4 2013 - 11:38pm

High School Leaders Program 2013
Day 13: Thursday, July 4
Reported by: Eddie Lin, Tallwood High School and Tessa Higgins, Charlottesville High School

We left at 9:35 a.m. As we took our daily walk to class, we all thought about the the ominous Budget Game.

Our instructor Mr. Johnson told us we had to balance the state budget. This was not easy, because we represented an array of views, there were many items to discuss and we were at a deficit of over $1 billion.

We were divided up into the Senate and the House of Delegates, and the two groups began to discuss how to lower our deficit.

Each group started by electing leadership. Both houses were given a packet that listed possible expenditures, reductions and taxes. Each of the groups used this to formulate a budget.

The House engaged in much discussion on many of the items, ending up with cuts and an increase in the cigarette tax. Similarly, the Senate discussed possibilities to balance the budget, and instituted a sales and income tax and cut less spending than the House.

After two hours, we took a lunch break and we then divided into groups: two Senate groups and two House of Delegates groups. These assemblies then mixed to create Conference Committees, consisting of one of each of the congregations.

Group 1 discussed the disagreements in two budgets. Because the group differed, there was much debate. In the end however, enough money was cut out (including heath care cuts) so the only tax increase was to the cigarette tax was made. Group 2 worked to create a budget that addressed disagreements. They instituted an income and cigarette tax, while minimally cutting health care.

The groups all convened to vote on the final budget. The biggest differences between the groups were Group 1 eliminating aid for coverage of Medicaid drugs, while Group 2 established income tax increase for the highest income bracket in Virginia. After much work, the plans were put to a vote. Unfortunately, there was a tie which meant that no budget was agreed.

After class, our Independence Day festivities began. Following dinner, we headed for a picnic.

Our party was short because of the practice presentations that were to start later that night. The Youth Program Managers gave wonderful advice on our presentations. After so many days, we were in that last stretch of work; as we made our finishing touches on our project, we knew that we were ready for our presentations.

HSLP 2013: Day 11 - Tuesday, July 2
Jul 2 2013 - 11:56pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2013
Day 11: Tuesday, July 2
Reported by: Brian Murray, Cape Henry Collegiate School and Sofa Getachew, Washington-Lee High School

After gathering in the lobby and checking that everyone had their roommate, the HSLP embarked on another busy day of political enlightenment. In the morning, students dove into an thoughtful dialogue about the documentary they had watched the previous day, The Perfect Candidate. This film documented the ups and downs of the 1994 Virginia Senate race between Republican Ollie North and Democrat Chuck Robb. Many students expressed their surprise at how misleading the title of the movie was, as none of the candidates were even remotely close to perfect.

Later, the class divided up into smaller groups and were assigned current statewide political candidates for whom they had to prepare campaign strategies. Surprisingly, the candidate whose campaign spot received the most applause was the infamous E. W. Jackson. The faux campaign managers replaced Jackson’s controversial rhetoric with sympathetic appeals: “Was it extreme when Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves? Were the founding fathers extreme when they fought for independence and liberty? Was MLK extreme when he fought for civil rights? E. W. Jackson is good for Virginia”.

After lunch, Sean Holihan helped us further our policy projects. Our other two speakers were Connie Jorgensen and Waldo Jaquith, who brought a lot of extra of flair and personality into the classroom. Jorgensen charismatically walked the class through the implementation of a policy of our choosing. After going through a variety of issues such as the legalization of marijuana, sales tax increases and others, the implementation of an additional cigarette tax of fifty cents per pack was discussed. Jorgensen helped the class understand the intricacies of policymaking from inception, to finding support, and eventually defending it. The high school leaders learned a lot from Jorgensen’s enthusiasm and knowledge on public policy.

Finally, the last speaker of the day, Waldo Jaquith, explained the importance of making public records actually accessible while sharing some of his own personal anecdotes. After dropping out of high school, Waldo Jaquith created his own software to track campaign finance and the positions of numerous politicians. His hard work resulted in the creation of Richmond Sunlight and Virginia Decoded which make political information easier to understand for the general public. After the meat of his presentation, Jaquith discussed his VH1 music awards for best music website and his run in with Al Gore where he actually saved his life. 

Returning from class, every student began prepping for their first full draft of their policy proposal. While in a high stress situation, every group successfully completed the assignment. As a way to end the day on a high note in preparation for the upcoming Richmond field trip, the group unwound to a showing of The Notebook.  

HSLP 2013: Day 10 - Monday, July 1
Jul 1 2013 - 11:09pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2013
Day 10: Monday, July 1
Reported by: Owen O'Hare, Carlisle School and Tim Dodson, Western Albermarle High School


As the HSLP students filed into the lobby of Bice, all were aware that only four students remained in the 2013 Sorensen Assassin game. The game had become far more competitive than anyone could have imagined in the days leading up to it and, unbeknownst to all, Yash was plotting to kill (or maybe just touch) Thomas with his lethal sock. Unbeknownst to Yash, his perfect assassination took place in a “safe zone” and soon only three assassins remained.

After an uneventful walk to class, we started the day with a wonderful talk with Nate Delesline, business editor and writer for Charlottesville’s own Daily Progress. Mr. Delesline mentioned that although social media has changed his profession in several ways, the interviews, sources, and scoops continue to play as much as a prominent role as have throughout the development of modern journalism. Mr. Delesline stressed four major points for journalists and leaders in general to follow: timeliness, tact, truth, and taste. Perhaps the most important point that Mr. Delesline made about the media was that journalists are “history writers” and that they have to get the facts straight and as fairly as possible.

Moments after Mr. Delesline finished his speech, we were treated to a surprise appearance from Sorensen’s distinguished Executive Director, Mr. Bob Gibson. Mr. Gibson proved exceptionally helpful in answering our policy questions with encyclopedic knowledge of Virginia politics, in addition to his practical advice about the best ways to get our bills to pass in the General Assembly. We may have proved a bit of a tough crowd to get away from, as our policy questions kept on coming and were quickly followed by excellent answers from Mr. Gibson.

Following Mr.Gibson’s discussion with the class, we watched A Perfect Candidate, a political documentary about the 1994 United States Senate race in Virginia between Republican Oliver North and Democrat Chuck Robb. The movie was interesting and highlighted some of the controversial factors in the campaign, such as scandals, the rise of the “religious right”, the role that race played in politics and the tremendous influence of former governor Douglas Wilder on the outcome of the election. The campaign seemed more sensational than perhaps today’s elections are, yet the themes of party influence, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and the need for a critical eye from the media were quite relevant.

After finishing the movie over lunch from Revolutionary Soup, Ms. Barbara Kessler, the Director of Career and Professional Development Programs for UVA, visited the HSLP classroom to teach a short workshop on crafting resumes. We went over the necessities that every resume must have, and Ms. Kessler also taught us how to properly list activities in order of relevance. We also completed a “bragging game” during which we learned something new about many members of the HSLP.

During the classroom section of our day, we had a major class discussion about the importance of numbers in public policy. Although numbers tend to be viewed as objective measures, numbers can be used to oversimplify qualitative issues. When numbers are utilized to craft policy, decisions must often be made about classification, groupings, and whether to include or exclude certain factors. These decisions can often lead to conflicting and misleading information, which in turn creates political tension, discussion, and debate. The discussion was philosophical in some ways, yet understanding the importance of numbers has very practical implications.

We ended class with debates about key issues facing the Commonwealth. The class was divided into six groups; groups were then assigned to a certain side of a policy issue (in the fields of education, transportation and taxation) and prepared positions to present in front of the class. Twenty minutes later, the class came together and the groups presented the opposing sides of each issue and engaged in a six minute debates.This activity proved to be engaging, fun, and fast-paced.

We returned to Bice, and the HSLP split up into groups that ventured to Starbucks, CVS, and U.Va.’s tennis courts. At six o’clock, the entire HSLP converged on Bice’s second floor to eat pizza from Mellow Mushroom over card games and tempestuous assassin encounters. The assassin game finally ended shortly after dinner with the assassin known only by his codename, “Big Bear,” pronounced the winner. As Mr. Johnson had mercifully decided not to make any work on the culminating project due tonight, the HSLP enjoyed a relaxing and quiet night watching television in Bice’s basement lounge. 

HSLP 2013: Day 9 - Sunday, June 30
Jun 30 2013 - 11:10pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2013
Day 9: Sunday, June 30, 2013
Reported by: Sally Meriwether Roberts, Collegiate School and David Cohn, Charlottesville High School

Today was a more relaxed day for the participants of the High School Leaders Program. The group had a much needed morning off which most of us used to either get ahead, catch up on sleep, or to work on our culminating policy projects. Rest and relaxation was the name of the game. As the morning progressed, the residents of the second floor of Bice Hall were strewn in gaggles across the dormitory, conferencing with friends on our projects and highly anticipating the surprise activity in store after lunch.

Our activity was revealed, and we eagerly filed down to the lounge to watch a movie. We watched Men in Black 3. This was our second movie gathering, and the whole contingent was entranced. The film gave us a light hearted break as we collectively swooned over Will Smith’s witty acting. Students had the chance to either work quietly, relax, or just kick back and watch the movie. However the relaxation stopped promptly at four thirty when we began the 2013 Sorensen assassin game.

One of our Youth Program Managers, Michael, assigned all those who wanted to participate a target, who was supposed to be subdued by the tossing of a sock in their direction. After four hours of intense plotting and deception, very few were still standing. The game allowed for good natured competition as well as new and fun alliances while we tried to guess who our peers were pursuing and stalk our prey like lions in the night. Michael was much appreciated for putting in the time organizing because it was a great way to release stress and bond with our classmates as socks flew across the skies of Bice.

To finish the day, eight of us found a basketball court and played for an hour or so. It was enjoyable to play and hopefully there will be more chances to play again. It is hard to believe that we are halfway through the High School Leaders Program. We have become so familiar that it feels like we have known each other forever! There is always something happening here at Sorensen and we have loved every minute of it! 

HSLP 2013: Day 8 - Saturday, June 29
Jun 29 2013 - 11:17pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2013
Day 8: Saturday, June 29, 2013
Reported by: Alana Davitt, Norfolk Academy and Amar Singh, South Lakes High School

The extra hour of sleep was much appreciated, as students awoke ready for the Senate Simulation at 10 a.m. Final facts and statistics were found, as each HSLP student prepared to faithfully represent their assigned senator in a mock General Assembly session. With “official” nametags handed out and the call to commence your party caucuses given, the politics and chaos began.

The election for party leadership was competitive, hands were raised in support, and final selections were written on the chalkboard. It was the Republicans' task to strategically select the members for each committee: Government Services, Regulation and Re-Distribution. With a dienators from the Democratic Party took their places in the rigged committees with the Republicans.

As debates commenced on the student bills, it was evident that the Republican Party had organized the docket to limit discussion on the opposition’s bills. Committee Chairs led the formal discussion and passionate points were made on behalf of each piece of legislation. Votes were eagerly cast, sometimes in accordance with the “party line”, while other times the students held true to the beliefs of the senators they were portraying. By the end of the committee meetings, some bills would make it to the senate floor for a final vote, while others perished at the forum.

After a delicious “working lunch”, the parties reconvened to strategize for the final debates, with the Republicans once again rigging the docket. The stresses of party pressure were tangible as the Democrats protested in silence to the indomitable Republican attack. Each party finally realized the moral conflicts that moderate senators face when voting, particularly when it conflicts with majority ideals.

After bills ranging from the legalization of hunting on Sundays, to implementing a non-partisan committee to investigate judges for appointment by the GA were passed, the “senators” became students again. We went back to the dorms for some relaxation and fun during which Thomas showed off his sharp-shooting Nerf gun skills while the culminating project groups discussed policy.

The nightlife kicked-off with dinner at “Citizen Burger,” and good food and company were enjoyed. After some apple cider “bottle popping,” we grouped together to collaborate on the next segment of our projects. At midnight, we filed into our rooms, looking forward to a day of rest on Sunday.

Halfway through the program we can honestly say that Sorensen has been a week of challenges but has provided us with friendships that will last a lifetime.


HSLP 2013: Day 7 - Friday, June 28
Jun 28 2013 - 11:13pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2013
Day 7: Friday, June 28, 2013
Reported by: Mason Davenport, Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School and International Studies and Rhea Somaiya, The Madeira School

The morning started in a frantic rush for many. Alarms were snoozed and breakfasts skipped as the Sorensen HSLP started its seventh day of activities. The only things lower than the backpacks on our shoulders were the bags under our eyes, yet the class soon reinvigorated to its chatty self as discussions of marijuana legalization and last night’s hoola hoop competition filled the walk to the classroom, arriving to a cheery Mr. Johnson.

Upon reviewing the previous day’s discussions on local government, Virginia campaign finance, and the difficulties of running for office, we dived head first into the public policy making processes. The group immediately started discussion, weighing the different models of the policy structure against each other. Whether the rock solid Iron Triangle or the multi-faceted Power Cluster model, the consensus seemed to lean towards a mixture of all four models introduced in the readings. This brought us to the “3 P’s” of a Policy Window in identifying a problem, finding a viable policy solution that exists and approving the change through the political structure. After a short break, we splintered off into our culminating project groups to view our policy initiatives through the newly formed lense of a policy entrepreneur. Mr. Johnson posed the question why “the time has come” for our policy ideas. Thoughts were shared and eyes watched the clock for the start of lunch as the morning session wrapped up.

Practically running to the lunchroom, the class arrived to a horror scene of epic portions, in that there were none. Jason’s Deli could not make the delivery, but not to fear, Bodo’s Bagels came to the rescue! All chowed down on a delicious array of bagel sandwiches while JoAnn Auger began her afternoon presentation on the Myers Briggs test. The session started with Ms. Auger directing the class to write our names with our non-dominant hands. Some succeeded, some needed help, but all realized the importance and possibility of accomplishing a task outside their personality zones. Ms. Auger challenged the class to understand ourselves and utilize the personality differences between people in the workforce. She left with a challenge asking, “I want you to be who you are... can you be okay with who I am?”

The group went off in separate directions from Olsson Hall. Some left for Bice, others headed towards the Corner for a refreshing treat to beat the late afternoon sun. At 6 p.m. sharp though, the group rushed for the dinner room to enjoy sodas and Chinese food, hands down the greatest Sorensen dinner to date. Culminating project groups scurried to eat as well as finish the preliminary report papers. With the 10 p.m. deadline passed, we popped a bottle of apple cider in celebration and devoured a surprise dessert buffet. The night ended with a viewing of a scary movie that was sure to keep everyone abiding curfew for fear of the serial killer from “The House at the End of the Street.” By the night’s end, all knew that our feelings of camaraderie transcended the short time we have been together.

HSLP 2013: Day 6 - Thursday, June 27
Jun 27 2013 - 11:42pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2013
Day 6: Thursday, June 27, 2013
Reported by: Thomas Canella, Poquoson High School and Shaarada Srivatsa, Charlottesville High School

This Thursday morning was filled with deeply sleeping students, tired after five (already?) long and busy days. No runs were taken THIS morning, and coffee was drunk, when 7 a.m. struck, and the day began. Exciting thought: today, for the first time since Saturday, we were able to dress casually! Thus, shorts were donned and we made the daily trek towards class. With the first deadline of our culminating projects upon us, the morning was spent in focus groups giving and taking suggestions to improve our policy ideas. Once we had received enough feedback, we rejoined our policy groups to mull over the issue at hand: incorporating the constructive criticism and drafting our proposal.

An hour passed by in the blink of an eye, and we all congregated again in the classroom for the day’s speakers. Ms. Jean Jensen, a Sorensen alumna herself, illuminated us on campaign finance, corruption and organization. Structured in an informal, participatory way, the discussion was full of opinion, analysis and deep thought. All students agreed that the talk was a valuable part of the day.

After Ms. Jensen spoke, we were treated to a great Chick-fil-A lunch by our Youth Program Managers. We then dove right into a conversation pertaining to the organization of Virginia’s Judicial, Executive, and Legislative branches. We also discussed the differences among Virginia’s Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, General District Courts and the Magistrates. It was extremely interesting as we discussed the checks and balances of our state government and how each branch in a sense monitors each other’s actions.

We were dismissed from class an hour early today at 4 p.m. to head back to Bice House and change for our individual headshots on the U.Va. Lawn. After a walk to the Lawn, everyone dressed in suits took individual head shots along with a few group photos. It was a great way to end the sixth day for the 2013 Sorensen High School Leaders Program.

HSLP 2013: Day 5 - Wednesday, June 26
Jun 26 2013 - 11:53pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2013
Day 5: Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Reported by: Yash Tekriwal, Maggie Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies and Jack Boettger, George C. Marshall High School

Wendell Berry once said, “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” Albeit lengthy, Berry speaks to the sometimes forgotten rural spirit that plays an elusively indispensable role in our everyday lives. As our Cave of the Wind Farm guide, Gerald Garber told us, “Farms are what put food on everyone's table.” As our society becomes increasingly urban and suburban, we sometimes forget the gratifying feeling of immersing ourselves in the nature around us. Rarely do we trade the commotion and hubbub of the city for the feeling of a ride through corn fields and cow pens, with no sound for miles except the roar of the tractor. At Cave of the Wind, cows are the central source of business. Mr. Garber informed us of the enormous scale of Cave of the Wind, where an average of 1.5 million gallons of milk are produced annually. Interestingly enough, cows are not milked for 365 days in the year. Contrary to our previous beliefs, cows must take a break of close to 60 days every year in which they are termed as “dry cows” and cannot produce milk. After spending time with the cows and exploring the farm, we departed for lunch at Clementine Cafe in Harrisonburg.

After consuming our wide spread of home-made sandwiches and chips from Clementine Cafe, we remained in the basement to listen to our speakers for the day, Richard Baugh and Abe Shearer, members of the Harrisonburg City Council. Rather than merely speaking to us as the average speaker might, the following hour ensued of deep and thoughtful Q&A between Sorensen HSLP students and the two city council members. Over the hour, we covered a variety of issues, the most important being the recent renaming of a street in honor of Martin Luther King, a seemingly inconsequential action that has sparked intense disagreement amongst the residents of Harrisonburg. In addition, we learned of the history of annexation in the Harrisonburg area, and its importance in terms of territory in early years and its lack of relevance in contemporary borders. Perhaps the most important lesson of all however, was the difficulty of juggling the responsibilities of a public office and also those of their other careers, and the amount of true commitment to their respective constituents the job(s) entail.

Finally, to finish off the day, Eddie Bumbaugh, led our group on a fascinating tour of Harrisonburg, explaining the vast diversity of architectural placement and design of the city, as well as plans for expansion in order to put Harrisonburg on the same level of cities like Richmond. After our short but enlightening walk through the city, our very own Lauren Gilbert led us on a tour of James Madison University (JMU), perhaps giving a more interactive and interesting tour than any guide possible could have. As we explored the pulchritudinous campus of JMU, we bandied about the JMU fight song and laughed nervously as we all perched ourselves on the infamous “kissing rock” in the Quad. Throughly amused, we returned to Bice House to delicious lasagna cooked by Mona Lisa Pasta. Exhausted by the informatively educational and physically taxing day, we dedicatedly organized ourselves into our culminating project groups and then decided to retire for the day.

HSLP 2013: Day 4 - Tuesday, June 25
Jun 25 2013 - 11:56pm

High School Leaders Program Class of 2013
Day 4: Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Reported by: Hayley Batten, Jamestown High School and Elisha Untiedt, Chilhowie High School

In the morning we learned about the History of Virginia politics. Mr. Johnson split us up into five different groups to present the reading that we had the night before. Each group gave a presentation, showing a PowerPoint or acting out the information. Personally, the acting was my favorite. We learned about the power of the Byrd Machine and its fall with the death of Byrd Sr. We then moved on to the return of the Republican Party in the commonwealth with the election of Linwood Holton as governor. Virginia was starting to become a purple state, contrary to the state's history of being a solid blue state. We then transitioned to the Allen and Warner administrations and focused primarily on Mark Warner’s strategies in the 2001 gubernatorial election with respect to targeting the south and southwest regions of the state. Furthermore, we learned about how well Governor Warner worked with delegates and senators from across the aisle to fix the budget. The presentations closed with remarks on the current political state of the commonwealth by discussing the election of Governor Bob McDonnell and President Obama carrying the state in 2008 and 2012.

In the afternoon we had two guest speakers: Jeff Britt and Felix Sarfo-Kantanka. Mr. Britt and Mr. Sarfo-Kantanka work for McGuireWoods Law Firm, which happens to be the largest law firm in the commonwealth. The speakers explained their jobs at McGuireWoods and how they play a role in the legislature. Mr. Britt described his life in politics working with the Virginia Republican Party and working for Governor Gilmore. Mr. Sarfo-Kantanka’s political experience was rooted in being one of the head policymakers for Governor Kaine. They both described how they utilized their past political connections to lobby for McGuireWoods.

After the speakers were done, we went into depth about Virginia Constitution. Sorensen High School Leaders separated into groups and talked about what we wanted to change in the Constitution. Further into the day we ended up debating until the end of class about what we all wanted to change. 

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