Washington Seminar students get rare visit with RNC chairman

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Stan Milam/Capitol News Service
Friday, March 27, 2009
— Janesville Parker High School Washington Seminar students got a taste this week of what it's like to go toe-to-toe with a national political leader.

A scheduled five-minute photo-op turned into a one-hour exchange Tuesday with Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

While frustrated staff members stood by, Steele not only greeted the 23 Parker students, he discussed with them the federal government topics they have been studying since the beginning of the school year.

Senior Hillary Presti made sure Steele understood her role as a researcher, not an advocate.

Steele asked if she thought building a wall at the Mexican border and strict enforcement of immigration laws should continue.

"My research has show that there are 20 other ways to deal with the immigration issue such as the E-Verify," Presti said.

When pressed for details, Presti held her ground and cited Washington sources she had interviewed.

Steele clearly was impressed by the students' responses to his questions.

When asked what the Republican Party is doing to attract more young people, he responded: "You are not the future of the Republican Party. You are the present.

"We are not going to wait until you have established a career and start your families," he said. "We are not gong to wait until you are in your 30s or 40s. We want to demonstrate that we want you now as an important part of the party."

Parish Braden, Steele's assistant, said it was unusual for his boss to spend an hour with a group of high school students.

"Yes, an hour is unusual, but he clearly wanted to hear what the students were studying, and he wanted to comment on their findings," Braden said.

Washington Seminar Director Joe Van Rooy said the Steele exchange was an example of how the week of research provides students with opportunities not available in the classroom.

"These are the kinds of unplanned experiences we've seen that come about through good preparation," he said. "We thought we were going in for a photo, but because the students were prepared to discuss their topics and had done additional research in Washington, we were able to take advantage of this great opportunity to have individual discussions with a national political leader."

The Parker students will wrap up their research today and return to Janesville on Saturday afternoon.

Last updated: 9:47 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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