Central Virginia High School Students Shadow Spanberger in Washington as Winners of Civic Engagement Essay Contest

Mar 28, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Central Virginia high school students Jerry Zhang and Abigail Kaikkonen yesterday shadowed Rep. Spanberger and her staff in Washington, D.C. as winners of Spanberger’s essay contest on civic engagement.

During their day spent shadowing Spanberger, the students attended several events, including a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a German American Business Council Roundtable, and MAZON’s 11th Annual National Hunger Seder March.

Zhang is from Glen Allen, Virginia and is a senior at Godwin High School. For his submission, Zhang told the story of how he unintentionally wandered into a session at his local library on educational inequity and classroom diversity. His interest was hooked, and half a year later Zhang was attending similar sessions as a student representative on a school district equity and diversity committee. Zhang hopes to continue conducting research and having conversations with members of his community to understand the complex roots of educational inequality in Central Virginia and envision creative solutions.

Kaikkonen is from Midlothian, Virginia and is a sophomore at Cosby High School. In her essay, Kaikkonen wrote about the distinction between volunteering to fill a school requirement and truly adopting a mindset of civic engagement. Kaikkonen is passionate about finding areas where people can become active, engaged members of their community, even if they do not have a strong interest in politics. She has found one such area in community gardening and anti-pollution efforts, after conducting research on invasive plant species in the Swift Creek Reservoir.

“Students like Jerry and Abigail make me so proud to serve the Seventh District. Our communities in Central Virginia are home to so many driven, talented, and service-minded young people,” said Spanberger. “Yesterday, I heard firsthand about how these students are working to strengthen their communities through service for others. These students show that we should anticipate strong and dedicated leadership from the next generation of Central Virginians—and I am committed to fighting for increased educational and economic opportunities for all young people throughout Central Virginia.”

In April, the other two winners of the essay contest will shadow Spanberger and her team in Henrico, VA.


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