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2017-2-28

Parents as Teachers Visits General Assembly

LaWanda Fisher, Parents as Teachers Supervisor for The Improvement Association met with Delegate Roslyn Tyler of the General Assembly to discuss the importance of home visiting programs such as Parents as Teachers.

Staff and customers representing home visiting agencies from across the state met with delegates, senators and legislative aides from their local districts. Staff from The Improvement Association gathered at the General Assembly to discuss the importance of home visiting programs and theParents as Teachers approach to building strong families and promoting positive parent-child interaction so children are healthy, safe and ready to learn. Parents as Teachers affiliates are dedicated to delivering services to children 0-3 and families that cultivate family well-being and healthy child development.

In Greensville, Emporia, Sussex, and Brunswick, The Improvement Association providesParents as Teachers to more than 68 families per year and conducted 744 visits in 2016. Parents also have opportunities to meet other parents and learn about community resources that support early childhood development and family stability.

For many attendees, this was their first meeting with their elected official. They thanked the legislators for their support and, after a day of meetings, with smiles on their faces, they agreed they will be coming back again next year.

For more information, contact LaWanda Fisher, Parents as Teachers Supervisor, at 434-634-2490 or email lfisher@impassoc.org.

‘Hidden Figures’ discuss their pioneering work in mathematics

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – When Dr. Christine Darden was growing up, African American women like herself had limited career prospects. “Most black females got jobs as teachers or nurses or in someone’s house,” she said.

But in school, Darden found a passion for geometry, and that made her “fall in love with math.” This led to a job as a “human computer” and later the leader of the Sonic Boom Team at NASA – and a key figure in the best-selling book “Hidden Figures,” the precursor to the highly acclaimed movie.

On Sunday, Darden and another pioneer – Estelle Amy Smith, a mathematician at Dahlgren Naval Base – discussed their careers at an event hosted by the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.

The discussion at the Ebenezer Baptist Church next to the museum was moderated by Michael Paul Williams, a journalist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I feel so out of place,” Williams said. “A guy who could never figure out geometry is next to two geniuses.”

Darden has watched the movie “Hidden Figures” 10 times since its release. She said certain scenes in the film weren’t true to life.

In the movie, for example, the mathematician Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) cannot use the bathroom in the building where she works because it is for whites only – and so she must run across the Langley Research Center grounds to the “colored ladies room.” But Darden said that didn’t really happen: Johnson never worked in a building without a bathroom.

Moreover, in the film, NASA’s first African-American manager, Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) steals a book from the library so she can teach herself the programming language Fortran. Vaughan’s grandchildren have come out saying that she never stole the book, Darden said.

Darden encourages people to read the “Hidden Figures” book because it provides historical context that the movie does not. That, and “I’m in the book, and I’m not in the movie,” Darden said.

Like the women in the movie, Darden dealt with issues of discrimination based on her race and gender. It bothered Darden that women with the same qualifications as male mathematicians were put in a separate room, where they would solve equations for their male counterparts. Darden said that sometimes she would not know what the equation she was figuring out was being used for. She confronted a boss “several levels up” about this issue.

The supervisor answered, “‘Well, no one ever asked that question before’ – I must have caught him on a good day,” Darden recalled, adding that she subsequently received a promotion into the male-dominated department.

One reason Darden believes that women like herself went for so long as hidden figures is because there was no one they could talk to about their work.

“So if I went home and said, ‘I’m working on so and so,’ no one would know what I was talking about,” Darden said. “No one dug enough to know what you were talking about.”

Unlike Darden, Smith knew from a young age that she had a talent for math. In elementary school, teachers would ask her how to solve math problems, so they could see how Smith did it, and then explain the method the class.

Darden and Smith believe that there are many other women whose stories have gone untold. Darden said more women like Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of “Hidden Figures,” should write these stories down to educate the public.

“It’s not only black history but American history,” said Adele Johnson, interim executive director of the Black History Museum. “It made me wonder what else I don’t know.”

Future public servants observe lawmaking firsthand

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – For the past two months, they showed up every day at the state Capitol, dressed in matching blazers and carrying pen and paper at the ready – the next generation of public servants carefully observing their superiors.

These young adults are known as pages. They are middle school and high school students from around Virginia who assist in everyday tasks at the General Assembly to experience firsthand how the legislative process works.

The program dates as far back as 1850, when the one page who worked was paid $2 a day. Now the combined total of House and Senate pages is 85 individuals, all age 13 or 14. Virginia is one of a handful of states that offer this type of program.

“It gives them exposure to the legislative process in a way that is not taught in the classroom,” said Bladen Finch, director of the Senate Page Leadership Program. “We do a little classroom-like instruction, but a lot of it is learned by actually observing the process.”

Many pages said they didn’t know much about how the General Assembly works before becoming a page.

Senna Keesing, an eighth-grader from Longfellow Middle School in Fairfax County, learned about the page program from her sister. She said that she made herself flashcards with the names and faces of senators so she could identify them during the session.

“I learned about it (the General Assembly) in seventh grade. I probably just memorized the steps for the test, and then forgot about it,” said Abbey Rice, a ninth-grader from Jefferson Forest High School near Lynchburg. “This is something I’ll never forget because I got to live it every day.”

Pages carry out tasks throughout the day such as fetching items from the legislators’ offices, assisting at the Capitol’s information desk, and getting lunch for the senators and delegates while they’re in session.

Although these may seem like simple tasks that lawmakers can do themselves, the pages know this is an important duty because constituents depend on their legislators being completely focused on business during the session. That can be especially true in the Senate, where the Republicans hold only a slight edge over the Democrats.

“With the majority being 21-19, every vote counts. We have to have people ready to do things for the senators they can’t do for themselves,” Senna said. “Putting something in their office, or taking something from their office, takes a really long time. Which is why they have us do it.”

On most days, the session starts at noon and typically lasts a few hours.

“Would you rather them getting lunch, or would you have them voting on a very contentious bill?” said Stephen Wiecek, an eighth-grader from Chickahominy Middle School in Hanover County.

Even with the time-consuming job of being a legislative page, the students still don’t get off the hook from homework.

“It’s basically like having a full-time job and a full-time school career, all in one day,” Abbey said.

In addition to helping at around the Capitol and keeping up with their homework, pages help out in the community in various ways. This year, they volunteered at the Central Virginia Food Bank, Feedmore. Collectively, the pages put in 154 volunteer hours.

The pages also raised about $7,000 in donations from parents, former pages and legislators. This year, the pages collected items from lawmakers’ offices that were being left behind in the General Assembly Building, which is to be demolished and replaced starting in June. The items were sold at a yard sale, raising about $450.

“As young leaders, and young possible politicians, we have to remember that everything we do is for the service of others,” Abbey said.

Now experts on the state legislative process, all the children have been inspired to work in some form of public service, even if it’s not in politics.

Senna, who before the page program had no plans for politics, found inspiration in the diverse background of Virginia’s political leadership.

“I am really interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), which is probably my future career. That’s why the lieutenant governor is so inspiring to me because he is a pediatric neurologist,” Senna said. “He’s a doctor and the lieutenant governor of Virginia. I find that really cool, and that’s definitely a possibility for me.”

On Friday, the pages held a graduation ceremony. After the legislative session ended on Saturday, the pages prepared to return home, taking along educational experiences and lifelong friendships.

“Trust me, some of these people are going to do great things, and I’m going to want to know them when I grow up,” said Lilly Hallock, an eighth-grader from Tuckahoe Middle School in Henrico County.

A lot of the kids do go on to do great things. Finch, who himself is a former page, said many children who graduate the program go on to careers in public service or politics.

A former page, Thomas Cannella, last year won a seat on the Poquoson Central District City Council at the age of 19. He was part of the page program in 2011.

“This is not a one-time experience. This is something they carry with them forever,” Finch said.

More on the web

For information on how to apply to the page program, see:

http://capclass.virginiageneralassembly.gov/PagePrograms/PagePrograms.html

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