They are people the average tourist to Washington, D.C., would
never see, much less interview: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein,
D-CA, Congressman Sam Farr, who represents the district including
Santa Cruz and Watsonville, and even the White House
’s chief executive usher.
They are people the average tourist to Washington, D.C., would never see, much less interview: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Congressman Sam Farr, who represents the district including Santa Cruz and Watsonville, and even the White House’s chief executive usher.
Local students from Mount Madonna School in Watsonville spent 10 days in the nation’s capital talking with these people and many more, trying to discover the person behind the name and public image.
Ward Mailliard, the Mount Madonna teacher who started the Government In Action Tour back in 1989, said the trip has become a rite of passage for the school’s senior and junior students.
“It opens their minds to possibilities that they just never knew about,” he said.
The students alternate traveling to Washington, D.C., with visiting places like New York on alternating years. In the capital, they interview public figures as part of a course titled “Values in American Thought.”
“It engages them in a thoughtful dialogue with people who are doing the work, so from a values perspective, they’re engaging with people who embody the values we would like to see in their lives,” said Mailliard, standing backstage at the Kennedy Center, where the group was setting up for a conference with some of the world’s most powerful female leaders.
Lulu Sposito, a Mount Madonna junior from Gilroy, said she has a newfound respect for the dedication of politicians, particularly President George W. Bush.
“Just going in (the White House), I felt this whole new respect for him, because the people who work under him have a lot of respect for him,” she said.
One of the questions students asked the White House Chief Executive Usher Gary Walters during their 45-minute interview: If you could tell people one thing about the president, what would you say?
The answer, Sposito said: He works really hard.
“I saw these people as human beings, and it made me grow fond of these people,” she said.
A senior on the trip said the interview preparation is truly a group effort.
“We have meetings a few hours a day just researching these people and thinking about what we’re curious to know about them,” said Sacha Manov, a senior from Santa Cruz. “We come together and people go along with each other’s train of thought, and it’s very cooperative.”
Mailliard, the son of a former state congressman, said he sees his students move beyond common preconceptions about politicians.
“The reason I started the program was that I wanted the students to see the human face of government, because I grew up in that world and I could never reconcile what you see in the media with what I knew growing up,” he said. “I really wanted them to understand that government is a much broader … phenomena than we’re able to show in the press, and for good reasons.”