South Point teen to have front-row seat in Washington, D.C.

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Imagine spending an entire semester 400 miles away from friends and family. Now imagine doing that while in high school.

Rachel Bentley, a 16-year-old junior from South Point, will be spending her fall semester studying and working in Washington, D.C. as part of the U.S. House of Representatives' Page Program.

"I'm excited and also a little nervous. It should be a really good opportunity," Bentley said.

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The page program is all encompassing. Students will live, take classes and work with each other in the program.

Approximately 70 pages will live in a residence hall a few blocks from the Capitol. Pages will start school at 6:45 a.m. at the Library of Congress and continue until 11:30 a.m. each day.

After classes let out, they promptly start their page duties, mainly doing courier work within the Capitol. Work will last until 5 p.m. or until the House adjourns.

Weekends aren't all free time. On weekends, the pages go on field trips to historic places including Gettysburg, Williamsburg and the Naval Academy.

Judy Newman, field representative for U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, said for a young student to leave home and go to a large metropolitan area and be part of the program is a big responsibility.

"This is a major commitment for anyone to make," she said. "ŠThey must be dedicated because the hours are long."

Bentley and her family met with Newman and Congressman Ted Strickland Monday in Portsmouth. The meeting was a chance for Rep. Strickland to speak to Bentley, whom he nominated for the Congressional Page Program.

Becoming a page is a detailed process. The potential page has to fit within a narrow set of criteria: 16 years old, starting junior year of high school and must have at least a 3.0 G.P.A.

In addition, the page has to be nominated by a congressman, and only a handful of congressmen are allowed to nominate pages. This was Rep. Strickland's first time that he has been able to nominate someone as a page.

Deanna Bentley, Rachel's mother, was initially nervous about her daughter being far away.

"I was much more concerned about it than everyone else," she said. Bentley's mother said despite her initial reaction, she has come to see that the page program is the chance of a lifetime for her daughter.

Bill Bentley, Rachel's father, called the opportunity "a gift from God."

One of the things Bentley's father is excited about are the other pages with whom his daughter will be working.

"Who knows what some of those kids will be," he said. Several former pages went on to become congressmen.

One potential parental concern would be security. Rep. Strickland asked during the meeting if Rachel's parents were scared about her being in Washington D.C., an area with a raised terror level warning.

"It's a concern, but so is going across the street,"

Bentley's father said.

While Rachel thinks security will be tighter because it is an election year, she wasn't concerned about security.

"We've been on high many times before," she said.