Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Local students run mock government at Boys State and Girls State

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Some local students were given the opportunity to participate in Boys State and Girls State programs this month. The American Legion has been sending boys to Boys State since 1935 and the American Legion Auxiliary celebrated 80 years of sending girls to the Texas Bluebonnet Girls State in 2024.

Students attended the weeklong camps that share similar vision but slightly different focus. Both the Boys State and the Girls State programs focus on knowledge of the legislature. The Boys program has a physical fitness component whereas the Girls Program includes a component focusing on mental wellness.

The Boys State program takes place at the University of Texas in Austin, while the Girls State program is at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin. The number of students participating yearly depends on available funds. There is a prescreening process and students invited to participate in the process must submit an essay to be considered.

“The purpose is to instruct our youth to the duties, privileges and rights of American citizenship,” said Brenda Towers, staff member and transportation coordinator of the event for American Legion Auxiliary Unit 491.

Towers went on to explain more about the purpose of the Girls State program that is sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. “It is the belief of the American Legion Auxiliary that from active individual participation in government affairs of a mythical 51st state will come a broader understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy and a deeper appreciation for its great privileges. We feel citizens return to their communities with an increased knowledge of governmental activities and heightened ideals of American citizenship.”

Ken Lobo, commander of American Legion Post 491, explains the similar values of the Boys State program sponsored by the American Legion. “At Boys State, participants learn the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens. The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county and state governments.”

Lobo explains, “Operated by students elected to various offices, Boys State activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law-enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, choruses and recreational programs.”

The students are assigned to different branches. At Girls State students operate a “51st state” for the duration of the week.

The boys at Boys State, according to Lobo, become a part of one of the two fictional political parties. “The students begin the process of holding meetings to select delegates from the fictional precincts, cities, county and state governments. The students select representatives to fill positions on platform and rules committees who will design a platform for a political convention. Alliances are made and discussions with opposition leaders are held. In fact, each dorm room is comprised of representatives from the two different political parties in order to encourage the art of discussion and compromise.”

Towers describes the camps as “nonpartisan laboratories of government.”

“ALA Girls State delegates are a diverse group with a shared desire to learn and lead. ALA Girls State ‘citizens’ come together from small towns, big cities and rural areas all across Texas,” Towers said.

“My favorite part of Girls State was the community,” shared Jessica Van Buren, an incoming senior at Glen Rose High School. “I was blessed to be part of the City N, Neptunes. There was an immense amount of support that came from not only my city but our entire county, party, and state,” Van Buren said.

Participant Andrew Bowen, an incoming senior at Granbury High School, agreed. “My favorite part was we were able to come together and acknowledge other people's thoughts without forcing our own. Also, the meetings actually talked about real world conversations and problems,” Bowen said.

The students who attended left with a different view of government.

“Before going to Girls State I felt I had no power as a person. I felt that one vote truly wouldn't matter. After all, I'm only a single person. But at Girls State, you truly learn how much one vote makes a difference. You learn how close ties are. And in government elections one vote truly makes a huge difference,” shared Monzerath Arias, who will be a senior at Premier High School this fall.

Van Buren concurred.

“I learned a deeper understanding of the legislative branch. As I got to be part of our senate at Girls State I was able to see bills debated and truly understand the amount of thought and time that was dedicated to each idea, whether it passed or not.”

The young men who attended Boys State found their eyes were opened as well.

“I learned how much depth is put into the voting process to ensure fairness and correct votes are accounted for. My favorite part about Boys State was probably seeing how confused all of us were going into it and seeing the growth (during the week) as we created our own government,” said Brantley Thrasher, who will be a senior at Granbury High School this fall.

The Boys State and Girls State programs leave lasting impressions. All the attendants left with a better understanding of government, and each expressed valuing the responsibility of voting with new appreciation.

“Participating in this unique program has taught me that that everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard and it’s crucial that you take every opportunity to vote for your representatives,” shared Aiden Lemens, rising senior at Granbury High School.

Preston Barden, also an incoming senior at Granbury agreed. “Boys State has motivated me to vote because I understand how important every vote is,” said Barden.