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HSLP 2017, Session B: Day 15

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Reported by Chip Maurer (James Monroe High School)

Congratulations High School Leaders Program Class of 2017! We did it!

Today we heard two weeks of hard work recapped in incredible speeches from Lauren Gilbert, Alex White, and Bob Gibson. The Spirit of Citizenship Award went to two deserving members of our class, Choetsow Tenzin and Ted McPhillips. After enjoying two weeks with them I can't think of anyone better to receive these awards.

After graduation we took photos in the most iconic place at UVA, the Rotunda, getting to pose next to Thomas Jefferson. Then came the sad part—cleaning out our dorms and saying goodbye to the new lifelong friends we made here.

As we launch ourselves back into the world with a new perspective on politics and a new found drive for change, I ask of my class one thing—remember our time here because nothing will compare to it!


HSLP 2017, Session B: Day 14

Friday, August 4, 2017

Reported by Andrew Kendall (Craig County High School)

Today started with all of the students meeting in the Dome Room of the Rotunda. We all presented our final policy projects to the class as well as a panel consisting of Lauren Gilbert, Tom Walls, Chris West, and Jacqueline Hixson. Every presentation was well put together and very interesting. The projects presented had to do with criminal justice, education, environment, and public health. Each presentation raised some great points and everyone learned from them as well.

After our presentations we had our last lunch together as a class which lead into our final class period. We discussed what we learned at the High School Leaders Program, how we will use that knowledge, and many other things. At the end of class we said our final goodbye to our great teacher Mr. Walls.

Lastly, we had our final dinner together at Cafe Caturra. During dinner we shared stories, laughed, and just spent some valuable time together. Next the Youth Program Managers announced our class superlatives. For the rest of the evening, we took pictures and just enjoyed our remaining time together.

HSLP 2017, Session B: Day 13

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Reported by Landon Sawyer (McLean High School)

We woke up to the sound of the fire alarm blaring throughout the dorms. Somehow the steam from a shower set off the alarm! We waited outside for about 20 minutes before the firemen let us back inside, giving us a late start to the day.

We got to class at after 10 a.m. to begin the Budget Game. Much like our Senate simulation, we broke into groups, this time a Senate and a House. In the Budget Game, we had to decide how to balance a budget with a specific set of conditions, one of which was a $1 billion shortfall. It was very tricky determining the balance between increasing taxes and cutting programs, especially with the Governor requesting new spending on transportation and higher education. It would be ridiculous to tax too much; however cutting essential programs would have been equally catastrophic.

I believe that this was an excellent experience to show what state representatives deal with when balancing budgets. Representatives would have to take so many factors into account before making a decision: what constituents would think, moral obligations, party affiliation, and many more. Overall I felt like a learned a lot about our government and suggest that the Sorensen Institute continue with this simulation in future years.

Right now, my policy project group and I are looking through the feedback that our YPM's gave us on our brief. Tomorrow morning we give our final presentations!

HSLP 2017, Session B: Day 12

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Reported by Avery Shivers (Christchurch School)

I awoke at 6:30 a.m. to the sound the song "I’ll Make a Man Out of You" from Disney's Mulan blaring from my roommate's alarm clock. By 7:15 a.m. we were all out the door and on our way to the Virginia Capitol building in Richmond.

The majority of our morning was spent listening to some of the staffers and other political workers who keep the Commonwealth’s government going behind the scenes, including Brian Coy, Kalia Sokos, Chris West, Khaki LaRiviere, Ray Lamura, and Kelly Fitzgerald. Each speaker provided a unique perspective on everything from overviewing legislation to lobbying, Senate sessions, and working for politicians. One theme all of these speakers emphasized was that governance is not just about the three formal branches, nor merely a matter high-profile names like Barack Obama or Donald Trump.

Following the speakers, the HSLP group toured the Capitol and then the Governor’s Mansion. One of the tours was a Virginia historical tour through the Virginia Capitol building. The tour guide took the group through the capitol building’s unique and historical rooms, including both the Senate and House of Delegates legislative rooms. He also ensured that we got our fill of references to the musical Hamilton.

Overall, today provided the group with an up-close and personal view of Virginia politics with the help of engaging speakers and tours. As our final day here at the HSLP approaches, I have become much more sentimental about the time I’ve spent here these past few weeks. Here's to finishing strong! 

HSLP 2017, Session B: Day 11

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Reported by Ted McPhillips (Granby High School)

On our eleventh day here at the Sorensen Institute High School Leaders Program, we began with a study hall that allowed us to use valuable time with our policy groups to revise and add to our culminating projects. We read through the YPMs comments on our first full drafts, and worked as a team to fix the problems and weaknesses in our original plans.

After lunch, we were visited by Ali Mislowsky, the VaNews Coordinator for the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), who talked about what VPAP does and how it achieves its aim of providing information about elections, candidates, and money in politics in Virginia. Ms. Mislowsky showed us the importance of obtaining information about how politicians’ campaigns are funded, and the importance of obtaining information from non-biased sources.

Our next speaker was Jared Calfee, who spoke on behalf of Virginia21. Mr. Calfee talked about how political participation has declined among college students, particularly in non-presidential elections, and how Virginia21 aims to reverse this statistic among college age voters. We were urged, as we near voting age, to help encourage our classmates to register to vote and remind them that their vote in any election does count.

Our third guest speaker of the day was retired Charlottesville Chief of Police Timothy Longo. Mr Longo discussed his current role as a police practice expert in court cases involving police officers, and how potential reform could impact the negative view of police officers in current times. Mr. Longo described the Department of Justice's role in cases where the Attorney General can write a report in how policing is handled in certain cities and how reform, by methods such as transparency, accountability, and community can help police do their job correctly and make the correct decisions in the heat of the moment.

The final speaker of the day was Kathy Galvin, an architectect by trade and member of the City Council of Charlottesville. Ms. Galvin spoke to us about the balance between family and politics and decisions that she has and both as an architect and a politician. Mr. Galvin expressed the importance of spending time with your family as a politician because campaigning and holding office can cause a stripping on your familial relationships. Ms. Galvin also discussed decisions she has had to make that affect the constituents of the City of Charlottesville and how those decisions impact the community's view of her.

Overall, the groups experienced today gave us a good outlook on both the society we live in and how activity occurs in the political arena with the public's influence. Each speaker had something unique to offer and continued the process of helping each student here move closer to becoming a political leader.

HSLP 2017, Session B: Day 10

Monday, July 31, 2017

Reported by: Thomas Liu (劉奐呈) (Langley High School) and Alex Moreno (Western Albemarle High School)

After an interesting Senate simulation on Sunday, Monday brought a movie, a variety of speakers and a unique lesson taught by Mr. Walls.

The movie A Perfect Candidate was about the 1994 senate race in Virginia between Ollie North and Chuck Robb. Learning about the issues in Virginia in 1994 and about the campaign style, which was very personal and combative, was thought-provoking and similar in some ways to current politics.

After the movie, Samantha Sedivy, a Sorensen alumna, came to talk to us about her experience working as a legislative aid for Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, the process of applying to law school, and her law school experience. She also spoke about her current work as the law clerk for two judges on the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Virginia. Ms. Sedivy then shared her thoughts on the American legal system and answered questions about jury selection, also known as voir dire.

Our second speaker, Barbara Kessler, taught us how to perfect our resumes so they could more accurately represent our individuality and strengths. She put us through a workshop that helped us identify positive personal traits by sharing defining personal experiences with classmates.

After the workshop, Mr. Walls taught us a compelling lesson about the significance of statistics and the policymaking process. Then we headed back to our dorms and continued to work on our policy presentations for Friday.

HSLP 2017, Session B: Day 9

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Reported by: Sabina Vohra (J.R. Tucker High School) and Alex White (Luray High School)

Having had a day off on Saturday, we jumped back into our busy schedule with an all-day Senate Simulation. Each of us had been assigned a Virginia Senator in advance to research and faithfully represent. The simulation was refereed by Mr. Walls as part of his class curriculum. John Metz acted as Governor and Caroline Bones played the role of Lieutenant Governor.

We all had to overcome the obstacles inherent in trying to pass bills in the General Assembly. Earlier in the week students had written bills as part of the simulation, which were then referred to committees and discussed upon. Some bills was amended, while others were tabled or simply passed. It was surprising to see the amount of clout the majority party held both in committee and on floor. They were able to bend the entire legislative process to their will by setting the agenda to deciding who sat on what committee.

Having been able to learn about the process, we were able to conclude that the majority party uses their influence to their advantage. After completing the simulation we received feedback from Mr. Walls about who displayed an accurate representation of their Senator and how the Senate operates during session.

For the remainder of the day we were given time to work on our culminating projects and readings for the next day.

HSLP 2017, Session B: Day 8

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Reported by: Iram Amir (The Steward School) and Matthew Marsh (Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School)

Our reward for a week of hard work was a relaxing Saturday. We all slept in before starting our day with brunch at 11 a.m.

After brunch the YPMs surprised us with a scavenger hunt that pitted us against each other in a quest to take pictures of landmarks around the campus. We were able to explore UVA and work together to race to be the first to finish the scavenger hunt.

Once everyone arrived back at Bice House, we discovered the second surprise of the day: a chalk circle on the parking lot in front of Bice which was to be the arena in which a tournament-style water balloon fight would be held. Things got heated quickly, and it was funny to see roommates chosen to fight against each other. After the championship round, we had a free for all.

After relaxing and having dinner, we had enough time to work on our policy projects. Overall, it was a relaxing but surprisingly productive day.

HSLP 2017, Session B: Day 7

Friday, July 28, 2017

Reported by Carlos Brown Jr. (Henrico High School) & Chloe Lowell (St. Anne's-Belfield School)

The morning began just like the others, with a mad dash to Starbucks in Gibson Hall. The overcast weather could not temper our excitement for the rest of our busy Friday.

For the first 3 hours of class, we met in our culminating project groups. The meetings saw a litany of ideas being born and laid to rest. We also continued researching and reached out to experts in various policy areas. Our conversations were undeniably passionate and fruitful, filling the whole classroom with the sound of progress.

After lunch, we met with Sam Louis Taylor, a regional director for Sen. Mark Warner, who started his career with an internship and worked his way up. He began by giving a short summary of his duties as regional director before opening the floor to our questions. There were many! We learned of Mr. Taylor’s experience in Richmond, his political opinions, and even his thoughts on working for Sen. Warner.

Shortly after our conversation with Mr. Taylor, we started a video call with our next speaker, Josh Ogburn. Mr. Ogburn focused on his work with UVA’s Pay for Success Lab, which aims to make the most effective programs and incentives possible. The students learned of the importance of statistics in determining the actual impact of an organization.

After a productive day, the class ran back to Bice just in time to escape a building rainstorm.

HSLP 2017, Session B: Day 6

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Reported by: Richard Robles (Potomac Falls High School) & Priya Tran (Keystone National High School)

We started off the day discussing by our culminating group projects. Each group deals with one of four broad topics: mental health, environmental issues, education reform, and criminal justice reform. Since being assigned to our groups, we have been working to refine these topics into specific policy proposals. After peer-editing other groups' proposals during focus group meetings, we pitched rough drafts of our culminating group projects to John, who offered us feedback and suggestions.

Two hours had passed since we started, and our speaker for the day, Brian Cannon, had arrived. Mr. Cannon is the executive director of OneVirginia2021, an anti-gerrymandering organization. Mr. Cannon showed us gerrymandered district maps designed to benefit Virginia's Democratic Senators and Republican Delegates simultaneously. After an hour of in-depth discussion on redistricting issues, the HSLP class paused to grab lunch before resuming discussion with Mr. Cannon.

At 1 p.m., after Mr. Cannon’s departure, the HSLP class had some time to work on their assignments, ranging from our culminating projects and our senate bills. Next, Mr. Johnson arrived and we were assigned articles regarding Virginia's historical constitutions and the three branches of government. After that, we had the chance to try our own hands at perfecting the Virginia Constitution in a mock convention. The activity helped us to appreciate the longtime traditions of Virginia ingrained into its constitution. Next, we dove into the structure of Virginia’s government, from the executive to the legislative and the judicial. We broke down the different roles and positions in each of the branches and learned the basic functions of Virginia’s government.

After class, we refocused on our policy projects, fine-tuning them according to the feedback we had received from our peers. Having now made it through a third of the program, we’re excited for what else is in store.