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MCHS junior serves as senate page

A Magoffin County High School junior spent five months of this school year away from home, without a cell phone, and working harder than she ever had in an elite program that put her in the nation’s capital for an experience she’ll never forget.

Kara Beth Poe, a junior at MCHS, heard through the school counselors that a student had dropped out of the United States Senate Page Program. With Senator Mitch McConnell the minority leader, his office was tasked with filling the position, and the Eastern Kentucky field leader pushed to find someone from the area since Kentucky pages are usually from central or western Kentucky.

Thirty high school juniors, 15 females and 15 males, are selected from throughout the nation to serve in the page program, where the students attend the United States Senate Page School, a program fully accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, early in the morning, then work within the Congressional complex, delivering correspondence and legislative material, preparing the chamber for Senate sessions, and carrying bills and amendments to the desk.

Last June when Poe heard there was an opening her school counselor had recommended her for, she, with the help of her mom, Tammy Lafferty, spent the next 48 hours finishing the application packet, writing an essay, and securing letters of recommendation.

“It was just a whirlwind,” Lafferty remembered. “We didn’t know anything about the program, but we pulled together and made it happen. We ended up with more letters of recommendation than she needed, with John Blanton, Brandon Smith and other nonprofit organization representatives sending letters in for her.”

With around a month before she was set to move to Washington, D.C., for five months, Poe found out she had been chosen for the program and she needed to memorize the faces of all 100 U.S. senators, their names and how they are pronounced. Once in the nation’s capital, she was given flashcards to help with the memorization.

“I’d just sit in my dorm room, flipping through the flashcards,” Poe said. “We’d quiz each other back and forth. We had to know all the senators, even with face masks.”

Poe’s group was the first since COVID-19 and she was the first page from Magoffin County at least in the last 10 years.

Poe was in the gifted and talented program in elementary school and was a Roger’s Explorer, but the US Senate Page Program came with new challenges.

“We talked a lot about security and we weren’t allowed to have our phones,” Poe said. “We had two landlines in our rooms, but with four other girls, you can imagine how that went, so we had to learn to live without it.”

Lafferty said the five months without a phone, while hard for her, not being able to text her daughter, really helped Kara Beth learn to communicate without a cellphone.

“Without phones, she really got to know the other people in the program and she made some really good friends there.”

During the week, Poe said they had to keep up with a strict schedule of classes from 6:30 to at the latest 9:30 a.m., pick up their homework assignments, walk two blocks to the underground subway, which they took to the Capitol, set up the chambers and run papers to and from senators and whatever errands they needed completed, do chores in their dorm hall and keep their rooms clean, and finish their homework in any free time they could wiggle into their schedules.

“She called me while she was doing her homework in Library of Congress,” Lafferty said. “How cool is that?”

While they were told about the rigorous schedule, she said there was no way to prepare for just how difficult it can be in the beginning.

“They tell you that you will call home, crying and wanting to quit,” Poe said. “We just leaned on each other and pushed through, and it definitely gets better. That first week is hard for a reason, helping weed out the people who don’t really want to be there. Keep telling yourself that on Saturday and Sunday you’ll get to go explore with your friends and you’re there for the experience. This is going to help later in life.”

On the weekends, they were able to go out and explore, taking the Metro and Ubers, which was definitely new to a girl from Salyersville.

“I had a roommate from New York, and she had been riding the subway to school every day since third grade, and she helped me so much. I flew down by myself multiple times and the fall semester is better because you get more breaks with Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Her other roommates were from Nevada, Illinois and Utah, with people in the program from all over the country, from different backgrounds and cultures.

“There are tons of different cultures and so many different things going on,” Poe said. “There were multiple people ask me if I had watched Hillbilly Elegy. The boy from western Kentucky just came right out and said, ‘how are you here?’”

But Lafferty laughed and said, “She’d give it right back to them, though. She held her own.”

With many coming from more affluent backgrounds, with private schools and nannies, Poe had to teach some of the other students how to iron their clothes and boil water.

“The night before showing up to D.C., many of them were having their nannies show them how to wash their clothes. They didn’t come from close-knit families, so they didn’t know why I was talking to my mom every day since they only talked to theirs about once a month, but they would talk to their nannies all the time. They taught me the idea of ‘summering,’ where they stay in their other home.”

For instance, one of her classmates left a day early for one of their breaks because the student’s godmother was becoming the first female president of Honduras.

“I was just wanting my mamaw to make me some soup beans and cornbread,” Poe laughed.

Lafferty commended her daughter for treating everyone the same, from the other students in the program, her professors, the staff at the Capitol, all the way to the senators and president.

“She took me on a tour when I was there visiting and you would think she grew up there,” Lafferty said. “She knew every office, and senators and staff working there all knew her name.”

Poe said in the cloak closet there was a fridge filled with every kind of water imaginable and a list with how each senator prefers their water, what height to set their podium, just everything.

“And they will tell you if you get it wrong,” Poe said.

While it was a strict program, she said the senators, President Biden, Nancy Pelosi were all really nice and more informal than she expected.

“McConnell kept up with my grades where he was my sponsor, and I saw him in the hall one day and he said, ‘You need to do something using chemistry,’” Poe said, explaining she had strong grades in the college-level chemistry class.

“Some of the senators would hide from us during roll call and I had one always ask how he should vote so he could just get out of there faster. Pelosi posted us on her Instagram. It was very cool [getting to meet President Biden]. I expected everything to be more punctual and formal, but he was really nice. Meeting him was as formal as I thought it would be. He just talked to us.”

She said Vice President Harris was also nice to the pages, telling them about how she started as an intern at the capitol.
While she was there, she was able to witness two lying in state in the Capitol, which is rare.

As far as legislation, she witnessed the strong discussions about the Build Back Better bill, abolishing the filibuster vote, and is still watching for history unfold on the new voting rights act.

“I’m watching to see what happens with that one,” Poe said. “Several senators told us to pay attention to that one because that will be historical.”

While the classes were advanced and she was in classes with students who were attending $50,000 tuition private schools, she held her own.

“They were struggling as much as I was,” Poe said. “I had never got anything under a 96%, but there it was different.”

In the end, she won the U.S. History award, proving a girl from Eastern Kentucky can hold her own.

“The biggest thing I learned was patience and responsibility,” Poe said. “I learned to try to be patient with everything going on and not being able to control everything. I learned a little bit about city life. You could walk outside and see a homeless man walking around with cardboard for pants. That scared me to death. You had to make fun wherever you could, running to the corner market. It was a big culture shock.”

While senators have a more publicized position, Poe said she was more interested in the parliamentarians, who advise the senators on what to say and dealing with the White House.

“That was eye-opening,” Poe said. “I’m definitely conflicted now. I always wanted to do something in the medical field, specifically pharmacy, and I’m still fairly sure that’s what I want to do, but political science is an option now, so I’m not sure. I’m very fascinated with parliamentarians and would definitely consider living in D.C. for an internship my junior or senior year of college.”

“I feel like she hasn’t seen the last of D.C.,” Lafferty told the Independent about Poe.

Poe and her sister are both set to go to Frankfort to be pages for Representative John Blanton next week and the SI is sure we haven’t heard the last from this very smart and talented teen!

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