By Maegan Azpiazu, Communications Specialist, Grades 9-12
A pair of Upper School students passed up a week at the beach or a snowy getaway to spend their Spring Recess in Tallahassee participating in the Florida Legislature's Page and Messenger Program. Kelly Ann Cosentino '19 took part on the Senate side while Catalina Munoz '20 participated in the House of Representatives.
For one week, Senate Pages get the opportunity to distribute materials and messages, learn about the legislative process through a hands-on approach and experience a "mock session" in which students role-play as Senators and engage in debating, discussing and voting on legislation. Pages and Messengers at the House of Representatives have the opportunity to observe lawmakers, lobbyists, staff and constituents working together in the legislative process, attending committee meetings, House sessions in the Chamber and occasionally press conferences with notable people.
Read on, as Kelly Ann and Catalina share their experiences.
What made you want to participate in the program?
Catalina: I heard about the program a couple years back from a family friend and I was always interested so I decided to take it on this year. My interest in United States government was my main motivation to participate in the program.
Kelly Ann: This program was a chance for me to see how our Florida legislators make the laws that protect and regulate the people of Florida. I wanted to see if I could gain insight into the process so I can work to introduce new laws protecting children from dying in the family car from heat stroke - drivers that simply forgot they have young children in the car. I wanted to learn what I would have to do for legislation to be introduced.
What types of things did you do in the program?
Catalina: We delivered mail to representatives throughout the Capitol building. We also drafted our own bills which we presented in a mock committee. From there, we presented our bills in the actual House Chamber and voted on them as the representatives would. During the actual session with the representatives, we delivered messages from their aids to the guards at the doors. We also witnessed bills being proposed in committee and while doing so, we got to transcribe the names of the people at the microphone so they would appear on TV. We then sat in and witnessed the actual session. We also toured the Governor's Mansion, the Historic Capitol Building and the Florida Supreme Court and met Governor DeSantis and Speaker of the House, Speaker Oliva.
Kelly Ann: I was a part of a dedicated group of students from around the state of Florida and I made quite a few good friends. I was elected Secretary of the Senate Chamber and participated in mock sessions where we debated Senate bills. My bill, The Baby Heat Stroke Bill, was passed after an amendment was also passed. There was a lot of debate which involved an entire week of writing the bill and then we had our final debate on the bill all day on the last day of the one-week session. It was thrilling to debate on the actual floor of the Florida Senate. We also went to visit the Florida Supreme Court and helped Florida Senators while they were in session in the Senate Chamber. I brought important papers, documents, papers and posters to each of the Senators and their legislative aids running sometimes between the Senate floor and the Senators' offices. We also debated real-life Senators' bills, SB 7030 and SB 168. It was an amazing experience.
What was your most memorable experience and/or biggest takeaway?
Catalina: The most memorable experience was witnessing the actual session in the House Chamber. It was fascinating to see the way the representatives spoke with such care about their bills. Being a district representative is not a high paying job, yet, you can tell they are there to represent the needs of their people. It was truly admirable to see them push for important legislation regarding human trafficking and the elderly with Alzheimer's. Many times, we get frustrated with our state politics, complaining that our representatives "don't do anything" or " are not doing enough." Through firsthand experience, I learned that the process to pass legislation is long and trying. It requires patience and in-depth planning, skills that not everyone has. It reinforced the values of democracy, insofar that our representatives fight hard to serve the need of their districts despite potential backlash from opposition. At the end of the day, they smiled and shook hands. That to me is truly admirable and a lesson all people should learn when it comes to dissenting opinions.
Kelly Ann: The passage of my Baby Heat Stroke Bill on the floor of the Florida Senate after a week of hard debate, intense questioning, accommodations, amendments and overall hard work was my most memorable moment. It was passed unanimously by my Senate group. My biggest takeaway was that it is possible to believe in a cause - in my case a child safety cause - and bring your cause right before the floor of the Florida Senate. This experience also allowed me to speak with my sponsor, Florida Senator Dennis Baxley, about passing a real-life Senate bill making the penalties more severe for reckless parents forgetting their children in the back seat of the car or leaving them alone in a car for any amount of time. He gave me guidance and direction and I have contacted the Commissioner of Education to see if I can get the curriculum I wrote with Mr. Ruben Valencia, approved statewide. That would be a very big accomplishment as every single school district in Florida would have to offer the Baby Heat Stroke curriculum, which is already approved by the Miami-Dade public schools, to their students. Then, I believe, the death rate in our state would drop drastically. He also connected me with the Commission of Highway and Safety to incorporate our curriculum into the driver manuals distributed throughout the state of Florida. That also would be a very big win.
How will you use what you learned, in school, in life, etc.?
Catalina: Moving forward, I will hold close to me the honorable ways the representatives represent their districts' needs. My understanding of why Florida functions the way it does will influence the way I perceive the state. At school, I will remember the way that, despite heated debates, the representatives respectively shook hands with each other at the end of it. Witnessing these things further increased my interest in potentially being a representative at the state or national level.
Kelly Ann: This experience, communicating with Senators, government officials, believing in an idea and seeing your idea come to fruition is something I will always remember. I know now, with great certainty, that if you believe in something, and you work hard and keep moving forward, you will succeed. I am taking into college and beyond, the fact that there are many good people that want to make our lives safer, healthier, and they are dedicated to this cause. So, as I go through college I will always remind myself that nothing is impossible.I will take with me that with the help of others, I can achieve high goals. I learned that despite all the corruption that hear about every day, there are so many dedicated people that want to make a productive change in this world - and do it ethically. That is why our Honor Code is so important for change to happen. I will always work with people of the highest ethics, people who are willing to follow an honor code and get things done the right way.