By Aila Boyd
The Virginia General Assembly was called in for a special session this month. The adoption of a budget, which was necessitated because of a revised revenue forecast in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and criminal justice and policing reforms will be addressed during the session.
Prior to the pandemic, Bryce Branscom, the son of Joel Branscom and Ann Gardner, participated in the House of Delegates Page Program during the General Assembly’s normal legislative session. “I got to see how the legislature works and how laws are made,” he said. “It was a really great two months. I met a lot of people from around Virginia, which is very diverse.”
He was 13 years old at the time of the experience and a seventh grader at Read Mountain Middle School.
“I’ve grown up around a lot of politics because my dad is a judge and my mom is a lawyer. I’ve also known Terry Austin a long time. It was his idea for me to be in the Page Program. I liked the idea, so we set it up. My dad helped me with the application and I got in,” Bryce explained.
One of the biggest takeaways he gleaned from the experience, Bryce said, was what it’s like to have a job. “You have to wake up early,” he said. “And you’re responsible for yourself.”
Out of everything he did over the course of the program, Bryce explained that the most rewarding part was getting to meet new people. “It’s really interesting to see how different people are,” he said.
In terms of what he found most interesting about the legislative process, he said, “Seeing something pass that somebody has worked so hard on for years is an amazing thing to see.”
The experience, Bryce said, was made easy for him by his school, which he said “went out of its way” to get him his assignments while he was in Richmond. After spending all day at the capital, he would return to his hotel room where he had two hours every evening to complete his school work.
The program, which is open to 13- and 14-year-olds, is structured similar to a college preparatory program with components centered on developing future leaders. Participants assist the members of the House of Delegates, the House Clerk’s staff, and other legislative staff in the daily duties required for the successful operation of the House of Delegates during the session.
The mission of the program is to facilitate a structured environment in which young Virginians embrace responsibility and accountability, develop professional characteristics through strict standards of conduct and engage in the legislative process through work, observation and discussion. Three primary components— The Responsible Young Professional, The Evolving Leader, and The Civic-Minded Young Adult— form the structure of the program.
During the 60-day legislative session, participants arrive in Richmond every Sunday evening and depart each Friday at noon.
Throughout the session, Del. Terry Austin allowed Bryce to ride with him to and from Richmond. “I would really like to thank Terry,” he said. “He’s a really great guy.”
For those who are interested in the program, Bryce said that they should make good grades and consider participating in the shadow program.
Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn announced earlier this year that the House Page Program for the 2021 session of the General Assembly has been canceled due to the pandemic. Additionally, pages will not be selected to report for the Senate Page Leadership program for the 2021 legislative session.
Looking ahead, Bryce said that although he hasn’t made up his mind about what he wants to do after high school, he’s open to pursuing a future in government or politics.