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Hastings teen selected for Minnesota High School Page Program

Hastings student Angie Thomas poses with State Representative Pat Garofalo.

A Hastings teen was one of the select students who got to participate in the Minnesota High School Page Program in the House of Representatives. Angie Thomas, a junior at Hastings High School, spent a week at the Capitol, learning first-hand just how state government works.

The program was established in Minnesota in 1975 and is one of only three programs in the nation that gives youth a hands-on look at government. To get a spot in the program, Thomas had to submit an application with an essay describing her interest in the program and the reason why she wanted to participate as well as get signatures of teachers from the high school. Thomas said she is interested in government and politics, and that she wanted to see what it would be like to work in the Capitol.

Thomas applied last October and found out she was selected in November. About 80 students from across the state are selected each year. They are split into groups, and each group spends about a week at the Capitol. Thomas was in a group of six students who went to the Capitol April 8-12. Their days ran from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and they stayed in a hotel across from the Capitol during the week.

The trip was a bit of a whirlwind for Thomas because she had just gotten back from Tennessee, where she was competing in the national show choir competition with Riverside Company. The same night she got back to Minnesota, she had to go to St. Paul to check into the hotel there.

Pages in the House of Representatives sit on a bench in front of the House when it's in session. Representatives can page one of them to have notes, documents or other items brought to them during the discussions. Students also get to meet individual representatives to discuss the work and the issues important to them as well as others in the Capitol that keep government running. There was also a mock committee session, during which Thomas and her fellow student pages were handed bills to debate for three hours.

"It was a great experience. I learned a lot," Thomas said.

One thing that was unique to Thomas's group was that the state had decided to make a video about the program, so a camera crew was set to follow the students. That made the experience all the more interesting, since they had to go about their work while ignoring the camera crews.

"It was really hard to not look at the camera," Thomas said.

Overall, being part of the program gave Thomas a greater insight about state government, she said. There were a few things that impacted her. One was how much like citizens politicians are.

"Politicians are people, just like us," she said.

Many, she added, have jobs outside of the Capitol. On a similar note, the building itself is just like any other workplace, albeit a beautiful one. As part of the program, Thomas took a tour of the building and learned several bits about its history, construction and artwork.

One representative had a good word of advice for students. He told Thomas that if you get into politics to win elections, you'll be corrupt, and that you have to be sure you're running for the right reasons to be effective.

Thomas was unique in her group because she was the only one who hadn't been involved in government-focused programs before. Other students had been involved in things like Youth in Government, but this was Thomas's first experience with the inner workings of government.

The experience helped her solidify her desire to work in law or government, she said. She's planning on going to college to study psychology or political science, with a longer-term goal of going to law school and becoming a lawyer.

"I want to be able to change things, help people," she said.

Since participating in the page program, Thomas earned a spot in the Minnesota Girls State Program through the American Legion. Girls State is an interactive program teaching Minnesota government on how to form city, county and state government offices. Girls who have completed their junior year of high school vote for and carry out elected and appointed positions in government. Thomas served as a judge for the program, which was held in June.