Rachael Gonzales found herself in one of the busiest places in Washington last month — the heart of the legislative session in Olympia.

Luckily, the Sky Valley Education Center freshmen had her two good friends, Snohomish High School students Hadley Grant and Jazmine Criswell, with her in the fray. Rep. Dan Kristiansen sponsored the trio of pages for one week. At night they would go stay with a host family. It was usually a relaxing end to a hectic day, Gonzales  said.

“I liked learning about how laws are made, and I think it kind of helps with self confidence and (learning) responsibility,” she said.

Every year hundreds of students statewide are selected to participate in the program. Pages first entered the Capitol’s halls in 1891, according to the Washington Senate. Public, private and homeschooled youth ages of 14-16 help carry out vital tasks for state officials.

Being chosen is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Demand is so high for the open spots that no one is eligible to reapply after they have served, according to the Senate.

Gonzales’ older brother made the commitment two years ago, she said. Her mother encouraged her to send in an application this year. She agreed, looking forward to what she expected to be an exciting experience. 

The incoming pages’ schedules are regimented from the start. They gather for orientation and meet their host families on Sunday. Gonzales said it was time to get moving at 7:30 a.m. each day, and they’re in the thick of it 30 minutes later.

Gonzales  is used to balancing a busy agenda. She takes courses at Monroe High School and Sky Valley Education Center. Singing, piano, sewing and dance occupy much of her time.

The students are given two hours a day to spend on schoolwork from home, according to the Washington House of Representatives. They also attend courses to learn about the process of developing policy and lawmaking. It’s recommended for students who are interested in state government, enjoy hands-on learning and are curious about their environment, according to the House.

Assignments include delivering messages, assisting elected officials in their offices and handing out documents on the House and Senate floors. Some pages may be asked to carry ceremonial flags, and to sit in on committee meetings. They make about $200 during the week, according to the House.

Gonzales  said much of her time was spent running memos between offices, which turned out to be her favorite task. A delivery could take her down the hall, or into another building. She was allowed to ask for a companion, but often chose to brave the search alone.

She successfully made each drop-off, but admits to getting lost a few times. Gonzales  laughs about it now. Asking for directions would usually sort it out, she said.

The floor brought some of the busiest work, Gonzales  said. Pages have to be aware of their surroundings at all times. The process can move incredibly fast. She couldn’t understand what a speaker was saying sometimes when they read through bills, of which more than 4,000 have been proposed in the past two sessions alone.

“Sometimes bills would pass really quickly, and sometimes there would be more discussion,” she said.  

Gonzales  said “being gaveled” was the biggest concern for her and her friends. No one was permitted to stand within the line of sight of a representative who was speaking. That sometimes meant kneeling in the middle of distributing notes and amendments.

“I think the most stressful part was probably working on the floor,” she said.

Gonzales  never found herself in a compromising situation, but Grant and Criswell were reprimanded once at the same time. She said thankfully they were able to commiserate about the moment afterward. They maybe felt a little embarrassed, but were able to laugh it off together later.

The freshmen also scheduled time to talk with their sponsor, who is one of three representatives for the 39th District. Kristiansen is from Snohomish, and has represented the district since the early 2000s. Kristiansen and newcomers Rep. Carolyn Eslick and Sen. Keith Wagoner represent rural parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties, as well as a small portion of King County.

The students and Kristiansen had a half-hour to get to know one another. The official did something Gonzales  didn’t expect during the meeting — he showed them a video of him riding ATV. The moment was very human. They had a good laugh about it, she said.

Being a politician isn’t likely to be in her career path; she wants to be a dancer or teacher. Despite the daily whirlwind, Gonzales  said, without hesitation, she would recommend the experience to anyone.