Every year, a group of high school students from across the state is selected by lawmakers to participate in the Capitol Page program, where they work for one week in either the State House of Representatives or State Senate. It is an excellent educational program that teaches young people how state government works, and I wish more students were able to participate.

For those who did not know, the future of the Capitol Page Program was cast into doubt earlier this year when one student accused another of sexual misconduct. The program was suspended briefly while additional policies were crafted to increase safety and prevent future incidents. I personally want to thank the House Leadership for fixing – instead of simply cancelling – the Page Program and allowing Oklahoma youth the chance to experience work at the Capitol.  I myself became interested in politics through a page award given by the Grady County 4-H years ago, and I am sure many of you can also claim the honor of having been a page during your high school years.  This program makes a difference for those who have the chance to participate, and lawmakers add to that by being the great hosts who select them.

One of the ways the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) is proud to support the Capitol Page Program is through a partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS). As part of a larger initiative called the Oklahoma Successful Adulthood program, DHS enrolls 20 foster children as Capitol pages each year. Those foster children participate in a mock legislature and work directly with lawmakers. Recent pages also participated in OICA’s additional work through Oklahoma Kids – Leadership Education and Advocacy Development (OK-LEAD).  OICA conducted an etiquette class, a financial literacy program, took them through a ropes course, visited Fire Station #1 during the OKC Bombing Memorial program which allowed them to be a part of the moment of silence, took them through a tour of KFOR and finished the class with a community service project and a graduation ceremony.  Every component is geared to empower young people and benefit them as they grow older.

We are also excited to announce a special upcoming OK-LEAD event focused on tribal issues. This will allow ten high-school aged Oklahomans who are members of a tribal nation the opportunity to attend the 2019 Sovereignty Symposium under a scholarship provided by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.  OICA will only coordinate daytime activities, so attendees will be responsible for transportation and lodging.  To apply, go to https://oica.org/programs/ok-lead-symposium/ok-lead-tribal-youth-application/.

My thanks go out to our sponsors of OK-LEAD this year: Sarkeys Foundation, Paycom, Great Plains Bank, Community Health Charities, Calamity Jane’s Apparel, the Journal Record, TSET, OKC, Beautiful, the Oklahoma History Center and Camp DaKaNi.  Each of these either supported OK-LEAD financially or through an in-kind donation to make the program a success!

If you have any questions about OK-LEAD and other classes that OICA conducts, please contact our office at (405) 236-5427.  If you know of a high school student who would benefit from serving as a page, please contact your own state senator or representative and inquire about open spots.

As I close this column, I also want to remind you about Child Advocacy Day on May 8!  We have open spots left for people to attend, programs to set up a booth and opportunities to participate in different ways.  Please visit oica.org to register and learn more about how you can help us finish this year with a strong agenda to benefit Oklahoma’s children.

Students participate in the 2019 OK-LEAD program