By Clara Moffitt
Picture this: giant marble steps, magnificent domes, too many statues to count, and the Declaration of Independence. No, not the replica stapled to a block of wood in room 406 – the real Declaration. It seems unreal, but Tempe Prep’s Violeta Panayotova and Anna Melis can attest that all the wonders that contribute to the country’s capital do, in fact, exist.
During fall break, these two juniors received the opportunity of a lifetime: to travel to Washington D.C. for free with District Judge Alvarez. This opportunity came through their participation in the Guadalupe Teen Court. As a chance for first time juvenile offenders to be tried in a court of their peers, the Guadalupe Teen Court is similar to the court Tempe Prep hosts each month. However, Violeta and Anna go above and beyond, participating in meetings each week. In these meetings they discuss politics, current events, and restorative justice, the central principle of teen court. Through this program, Anna and Violeta applied for a scholarship to travel to the nation’s capital and receive an exclusive glimpse into the world of government.
As a part of this unique experience, Anna and Violeta were able to tour congressional offices and even sit in on the oral arguments of the Supreme Court. “It is literally the nine justices talking to the lawyers,” Violeta says. With aspirations of becoming a lawyer, “it was the most incredible thing I have ever experienced!” she exclaims. Violeta continues, “it was so motivational and inspiring!”
Though Anna was also compelled by the government aspect of the trip, what she found most impactful was not in any government office. Anna explains, “We got to do a lot of really incredible, powerful things . . . but one of the most impactful things was when we went to the White House.” But she wasn’t fascinated at the residence of executive power. Rather, she was intrigued by a tent covered in posters from decades earlier. She later found out that the owner of the tent had made a decision to spend his life urging reform through protesting. Though that is not her future plan, she still found this dedication to improving one’s country “inspiring and awe striking.”
So now Anna and Violeta have had an experience of a lifetime, but what now? “Did it change my life? Yes,” says Violeta, as the trip also confirmed her desires for the future. Through her experience with the Supreme Court and the magnificence of Washington D.C., Violeta became more resolute than ever in her passion for the law and desire to have a life at the Capitol: “I want to grow up and wear a suit all day, every day and go argue in front of judges.” But beyond that, her trip made her realize that public servants really are just people. Studying U.S. History in Tempe Prep’s Humane Letters course, Anna elaborates that the trip also “humanized” the Tempe Prep curriculum because it “made it seem less like these people were far-off; I got to see how they existed just like you and me.”
All in all, Anna and Violeta’s trip to Washington D.C. will not be one they soon forget. With the relation to their history class and the insight into the inner workings of the government, Violeta explains that “seeing it in person, in absolute beauty was life changing.”
Both juniors owe their experiences to the Guadalupe Teen Court and plan to continue their involvement in the organization that sent them to the Capitol. Violeta concludes: “Do Teen Court; it opens doors, especially Guadalupe Teen Court.” Who knows, maybe you can also learn more about yourself, the government, and even see it too.
Article by Clara Moffitt, student Editor in Chief and Staff Writer for De Equitibus, Tempe Preparatory Academy’s student newspaper.
About Tempe Prep: Tempe Preparatory Academy is a tuition-free public charter school in Tempe for students in grades 6-12 that provides a nationally acclaimed liberal arts education based on the Great Books of Western Civilization with an exceptional math, science, foreign language, humanities, and fine arts curriculum. Tempe Prep has been recognized by the Arizona Board of Regents as having the highest percentage of college graduates in the state and has been named the #1 high school in Arizona by Newsweek (America’s Top High Schools 2016). For more information about enrolling at Tempe Prep, visit the school’s website at tempeprep.org.