Girls, Boys State teaches youths about citizenship
For many, learning from a textbook is enough, but for the hundreds of Kansas youths - including several from Lansing High School - who participate in Girls and Boys State each year, learning is better when it takes a hands-on approach.
The American Legion Boys and Girls State of Kansas are separate weeklong events that strive to teach participants about government, community and leadership.
During each session, high school juniors from across the state are brought together to become citizens of a fictional state. They get divided into groups that form counties and cities within the entire state. From then on, it's up to them to campaign for political office, solve governmental problems and conduct meetings where they can debate bills and resolutions.
This intense weeklong experiment in self-governing was originally created in 1935 as a way to develop interest in the privileges of citizenship and the United States government during a time when many thought the idea of democracy was on the rocks, according to the American Legion Web site.
Cherie Thomas, Kansas American Legion Auxiliary VAVS representative, said most of the participants who come in are shocked to learn how complex their government is.
She said it was a challenging experience but almost everyone leaves saying they had fun and learned a lot. The participants are responsible for structuring an entirely new civilization, and Thomas said that was an experience most couldn't find anywhere else.
This year, Girls State was from June 3 to June 9 on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Lauren Anderson, 17, Lansing, participated in this year's event, as did classmates Kelly Garity and Kristen Yaw.
Anderson went in not knowing what to expect but said she came out of the experience more informed.
"I think my interest in politics grew substantially. I didn't know that much about politics and issues going on right now," she said. "Now I have a really good grasp on some of the issue that are going through the Legislature and things concerning America."
Girls State, Anderson said, gave her the opportunity to explore new areas of interest that could affect her future. She said she would now be a better voter because she learned how to research candidates and discovered what she stood for personally.
During Girls State, Anderson was voted into several positions: city sheriff, county district magistrate judge and president of her city's school board. She also became a fictional lawyer after taking a bar exam at the beginning of the week.
Through each position, Anderson was able to learn about the many different ways a person could get involved with politics.
She said one of her favorite moments during Girls State was working with her fictional city's school board. The board worked on issues they felt were important, one being to bring a Spanish program to younger children in the district.
In addition to gaining information about the inner workings of government, Anderson said she learned a lot about teamwork. Most of all, she said she enjoyed making so many new friends who came from all across Kansas.
Boys State was staged a week later, from June 10 to June 16 at Kansas State University in Manhattan.
This year, Lansing only sent one person to Boys State. Eric Hansen, 17, lives in Leavenworth but attends Lansing High.
He signed up for the event after hearing about it from his father, who had attended when he was younger. Hansen said when he heard about Boys State he thought he sounded like a good experience in leadership.
Hansen, a self proclaimed CNN addict, had a love for politics long before attending Boys State. What made the most impact during his time there was forcing himself to step out his "shell" and get to know the other participants.
While there, Hansen was voted in as a member of the fictional State Senate and later as Secretary of the Senate. He said the skill he learned the most while holding this position was how to work well with others.
Hansen's goal for next year is to spread the word about Boys State to the incoming junior class boys. He said he would like to see Lansing get a larger representation.
He plans to share his experiences and tell everyone how fun and interesting his week was. All week long Hansen's camp counselors kept telling him that Boys State is "a week to change a lifetime," and Hansen said he couldn't agree more.