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While some high school students spend winter break sleeping in and watching television, eight young women from a private school in Tennessee are spending their vacation answering mail and conducting tours of the Capitol.
Harpeth Hall, a renowned all-girls college-preparatory school in Nashville, has been sending students to intern in lawmakers’ offices since 1973.
For a few weeks between the fall and spring semesters, juniors and seniors at the school are required to spend time working or studying off campus. Students have done community service projects in New York and studied in China, Italy, France and Spain.
Eight chose to spend this year’s “winterim” interning in the offices of Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Tennessee Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.
Legare Vest, a program adviser and Harpeth Hall science teacher, said the mandatory program reflects the school’s attitude about learning.
“We’re not just about sitting in the classroom,” she said. “We’re also about helping each girl find her own passion, and winterim is certainly an avenue that makes that happen for each girl.”
Some based their decision to come to Washington, D.C., on positive feedback from previous interns.
Senior Mary Liza Hartong, who is interning in Blackburn’s office, followed the path of her two sisters who interned in D.C. while in high school.
“I thought it would be nice to carry on the ‘family tradition,’” she said in an email.
For others, the Congressional internships best fulfilled their academic and extracurricular interests.
“I chose this internship because I thought it would be interesting to learn more about how government in the United States works,” senior Emma Dedman, also an intern in Blackburn’s office, said in an email. “I also thought it would be exciting to work in Washington because 2012 is an election year.”
Laura Lee Singer, a junior interning in Corker’s office, said she was motivated to come to D.C. in part because of her experience with mock trial at Harpeth Hall.
“I really enjoyed the judicial aspect,” she said of the extracurricular activity that has students play the roles of attorney and witnesses in semi-scripted court cases. “But I really wanted to see the more legislative side ... so I thought D.C. would be the perfect place to figure that out.”
Despite the lull that often accompanies Congressional recesses, the students are still getting hands-on experience.