Richmond in the pouring January rain never looked better to a wonderful group of students last Saturday. Thanks to the warm generosity of our local governing body and the cooperation of both our school and the school board, nine Tazewell High School students were uniquely involved in the governmental process.
Danielle Meadows, Katie Ray, Amanda Smith, Chris Johnson, Paul Carpio, Carrie Rasnake, Spenser Necessary, Ashlyn Muncy and David Hilton represented THS. They, led by Amanda who made a presentation, had already secured much-needed assistance from the Board of Supervisors including Mike Hymes, John Absher, Seth White, Charles Stacy, and Garland Roberts. In addition, Chris coordinated additional efforts through Consol Energy’s Cathy St. Clair to help with the trip. Our students are looking forward to increased participation with our county supervisors this year — and beyond.
As newly-elected governor Terry McAuliffe, along with incoming lieutenant governor Ralph Northam and new attorney general Mark Herring took their respective oaths of office in Richmond, our Model General Assembly group was seated nearby. Our students had already been working with Jennifer R. Boyd, the highly-efficient legislative aide for Senator Phil Puckett. Boyd is a Tazewell High graduate. She coordinated a fascinating schedule for us once we arrived in Richmond and secured lodging for our group.
Jennifer made certain we had a lengthy meeting with Senator Puckett in his General Assembly Building office. In an informative question-and-answer session, he talked at length about education and energy. He reviewed ideas for plans regarding the state college and university system — in particular a research idea involving Virginia Tech — and included some thoughts about fees. Puckett went into detail about coal and alternative energy sources, especially as it relates to Southwest Virginia. Puckett, in addition to having been in private business, was also a teacher and principal during his career and he remains a friend of public education.
Later, the tour moved to Del. James “Will” Morefield’s office for a session with a Southwest Virginia legislator, and also a Tazewell graduate. Morefield’s chief of staff, Marty Hall, working in conjunction with Mrs. Boyd, also provided some lapel pins featuring both the American flag and the Virginia flag to the students. Morefield talked Tazewell High and reviewed projects to bring jobs to Virginia including also his support for the coal industry. He mentioned his recent tour of Israel and how that can benefit citizens of the Commonwealth.
Jennifer then ushered us into a meeting with well-know lobbyist and Richmond political observer David Bailey, who shared insights into the political process, including how the parties in Virginia coordinate their efforts across the state. Bailey distributed two highly informative booklets, one called “Capital Connections” and another listing various lobbyists and legislative assistants to show the students how to connect with representatives. That was a real treat and offered a rare glimpse into politics from a seasoned veteran.
Puckett later introduced the students to the Virginia Senate and then (incoming) Attorney General Herring came up to the gallery for a personal visit, again thanks to the tireless efforts of Jennifer. Outgoing Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling also extended a very nice welcome to the students from the podium.
Jennifer arranged for the students to visit with Senate Deputy Clerk John McE. Garrett and Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Shaar to further discuss the operation of state Senate policies. Following a quick lunch break we had a unique tour of the facility and then — surprise! — we got a personal meeting with McAuliffe and his family. They took time to chat and take pictures, asking questions about our visit to Richmond. That was a truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As always, Jennifer was there to make certain all was going well.
At the inauguration itself, thanks to some maneuvering by Secondary Education Supervisor George Brown, we received excellent seating from the Inaugural Committee and were treated to ringside seats across from former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. MGA co-sponsor Lori Moss was especially pleased about that and the whole group had access to the entire inaugural parade as it passed by the majestic capitol.
Our school administration was greatly supportive including assistant principal Cynthia Beavers, who along with bookkeeper Melissa Coleman came down on a snow day to help us prepare. Interim principal Dave Bockes was also on hand and even bought us some donuts for the trip. Assistant School Superintendent Christine Kinser also coordinated the planning.
Our students are eager and anxious to help, and gained unique — real world education through the wonderful assistance we received. Our heart-felt thanks out to each of you.
Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.