On the floor of the US Senate: Trinity High School junior Sarah Strube returns after a semester in Page School
Many high school students have after-school jobs by the time they reach their junior year, but most don't work semester-long stints 1,600 miles from home.
But that's exactly what 17-year-old Trinity High School student Sarah Strube did for her fall semester as one of 90 high school juniors admitted to the U.S. Senate page program each year.
Being accepted into the program meant Strube left North Dakota behind for a while, traveling to Washington, D.C., where she served as a page for Senate Republicans.
"I contacted Sen. (John) Hoeven's office and told them that I was interested," Strube said, adding that she sent in a resume and letter of recommendation before completing an interview. "From that point on, the senator's office decides to sponsor you, if they can get a spot for a page, then they send you in, and then the school just has to clear you."
Strube is the only person to apply to be a page through Republican Hoeven's office, said Sara Egeland, Hoeven's press secretary. But former Democrat Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad sponsored several pages while serving in the Senate.
Strube applied to the prestigious program about a year ago.
"She has had this on her radar for a long, long time," said Strube's mom, Beth Ehlis.
The program admits high school juniors from around the country for a semester or summer in the nation's capital to run errands for senators, take classes and learn about the legislative process, said Page School Principal Kathryn Weeden from her Washington, D.C., office.
Pages live in and attend classes in the Hall, Strube said. They are served a dorm-style breakfast, are given $9 on a cafeteria card to eat lunch at the Capitol and are expected to get supper on their own.
"You end up eating a lot of sandwiches," she said.
Strube lived in a large dorm room with five other girls, one of whom was from Montana.
"She actually greeted me with a hug and said, 'Yay, I'm not the only hick here,'" she said. Other roommates hailed from Vermont, Maine, Nevada and Oklahoma.
Pages attend school from 6 a.m. until 9:45 a.m. or until one hour before the day's session begins, Weeden said.
After that, they attend the session where they sit on the floor of the Senate -- literally on the floor on steps -- where they make themselves available to run errands for senators of the party they serve.
"Any time the senator comes in to talk or make a speech, you have to set them up with water, a podium, if they want an easel, a staff chair. You have to set them up with all of that," she said.
Errands might also include a breakfast run, but it's usually running important documents between offices in the Capitol, Strube said.
"Sarah did an outstanding job representing the state of North Dakota," Egeland said. "We're very proud of her work in the page program."
In addition to being messengers for senators, pages attend an academically-challenging school, Weeden said.
Pages must have at least a 3.0 grade point average before attending the program, but many have a much higher GPA, she said. Academic standing is heavily considered when pages are chosen.
"The school there is very rigorous," Strube said. "But you have four outstanding teachers and they really do try to help you."
Page School teachers work with the student to align their Washington schooling with a curriculum from home.
Since she's been back, Strube has been playing catch-up in a few of her classes, but has ended up ahead in others.
"My teachers here have been really good about it," Strube said of her Trinity educators. "At Page School, too, the teachers there prepare you pretty well to come back to school. I've just been working a lot with my teachers here."
Pages aren't all work and no play. While much of their time is scheduled and accounted for, they are allowed to venture out on their own after the day's session wraps up, and they are taken to field trips to historic places throughout the D.C. area on Saturdays, Weeden said. There is a strict 9 p.m. curfew during the week, which is extended by one hour on the weekend.
"You get introduced to a lot of experiences there," Strube said.
Ehlis was apprehensive at first about letting Strube go to Washington, D.C., but once she learned that pages are supervised, "I didn't want to take that away from her at all."
"I always felt that she was safe and well taken care of," Ehlis said. "They took such good care of these students."
Ehlis traveled east to the U.S. capital with her youngest daughter in the fall at the beginning of the program. When she visited again in October, she was surrounded by many of Strube's page friends.
"When we went for a walk and found a place to eat, there were like five of them with us," she said.
In addition to the family visit in October, Strube came home for the Senate's one-week recess over Thanksgiving and two-week break for Christmas. She also was able to attend President Barack Obama's second inauguration before leaving Washington.
"There was a lot of excitement there," she said.
The House discontinued its page program in 2011, citing costs and modern messaging technology as the reasons, Weeden said. Many years ago, there were also Supreme Court pages.
The Senate's page program was started by Sen. Daniel Webster in 1829 when he hired young male relatives to run errands for himself and his fellow senators, according to "Pages of the United States Congress: History and Program Administration," a guide published Jan. 4.
The program grew, evolved and became available to 30 high school juniors at least 16 years old. The first time women were allowed to serve as pages was 1971.
The Senate majority party gets 16 pages, while the minority party gets the remaining 14. Senators take turns nominating students from their state to be pages.
High school juniors can serve for either fall or spring semester, or during the summer, either before or after their junior year of high school.
"Apply," Strube said. "It's an amazing experience."