It’s Saturday morning, and junior Vanessa Previsic can finally take a break from studying. She can visit a museum, take a walk in the park or patronize one of the many coffee shops just a block from her residence.
Previsic will have a tough choice, though, between the Natural History and National Air Museum. If she goes on a walk, it’ll be to the National Mall, and if she grabs coffee, she might just rub shoulders with a Supreme Court justice.
For the first semester of her junior year, Previsic studied at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL) in Washington, D.C.
SEGL is a selective semester-long program exclusively for high-school juniors. Previsic discovered SEGL through Sacramento Breakthrough director Adolfo Mercado.
While studying in D.C., Previsic lived at the SEGL residences on Capitol Hill, commuting to the campus, a restored townhouse adjacent to the Supreme Court.
The location was one of Previsic’s favorite aspects of the program.
“We were so close to all of D.C.’s most famous attractions, just a block from the Capitol and right next to the Supreme Court,” Previsic said.
“My friends ran into Speaker of the House John Boehner at the Peet’s down the block, and I saw Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas walking to school one day. It really doesn’t get any better than that!”
In addition to the central location, SEGL brought in political and journalistic figures for students to interview. During her time at SEGL, Previsic talked with the following: Meghan Rooney (President Obama’s primary speech writer); Carl Wilkins (the only American who stayed in Rwanda during the genocide); Eric Schmitt (a Pulitzer Prize winning political journalist from the New York Times); Bud Krogh (leader of the Nixon administration’s cover-up of Watergate); Lissa Muscatine (Hillary Clinton’s speech writer); George Moose (the assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the Rwanda crisis) and Salam Fayyad (former prime minister of Palestine).
“Talking to people who have made real differences at pivotal events adds so much to the curriculum,” Previsic said.
Previsic said that at the beginning of the program, most of the students were too starstruck to ask hard-hitting questions, but they became more comfortable with challenging their guests.
“We would grill them with questions,” Previsic said. “We got rough with them, and most stepped up to the challenge. Carl Wilkins was really honest with his answers.
“A few people, like George Moose, were really good at skirting around the issue. Moose kept ignoring our question of ‘Why didn’t we put troops in Rwanda?’ which was the main reason he was there.”
While Previsic established connections with world leaders, she also tackled a heavy school workload. According to Previsic, SEGL tries to offer a connection from normal high-school curriculum to their own.
To accommodate this, several of Previsic’s classes were extremely small. In fact, she was the only one in her Latin class.
“It’s honestly a lot more like private tutoring sessions than classes because the student-to-teacher ratio is somewhere around 4:1 in an average class,” Previsic said.
In addition to their continued academic courses, all students were required to take Arabic and Chinese cultural and language classes.
Beyond the academic rigor of the program, students had chores (maintenance of the academic facilities) and a mandated exercise block.
SEGL students also volunteered once a week at Thompson Elementary School, helping underprivileged children with reading and sports.
During their free time, students were given a large amount of freedom to explore the city on their own terms.
“The public transportation is really on point,” Previsic said.
“You don’t need a car like Sacramento, and because we were so close to the action, we could walk or take the metro just about anywhere.”
While students were asked to stay in groups of three when exploring the city, they were otherwise given free rein to explore close locations.
As most students came from the West Coast or were international (South Africa, Japan, Canada), they tended to stay in the city during breaks.
Upon her return, Previsic has found Country Day academics to be undemanding.
“(SEGL) kept me so on track in terms of academics,” Previsic said. “I have so much free time now.
“What used to take me four hours I can do in one hour now.”
According to Previsic, SEGL work is extremely efficient. with less homework but higher output than Country Day.
“There is no busy work,” Previsic said. “Everything we covered was meaningful.”
“You are on the ball every moment because you have to be.” Previsic said. “With extra classes in ethics and leadership along with the Arabic and Chinese classes, you don’t have another option.”
Previsic said the experience also made her more open to attending a college on the East Coast. While in D.C., she visited Georgetown University and George Washington University.
“I really enjoyed Georgetown – the people, the atmosphere,” Previsic said. “It all felt perfect.”
Previously published in the print edition on Feb. 17, 2015.