Helping youth understand, appreciate American government

September 8, 2018

SPEARFISH — Red, white, and blue decorations adorned the picnic tables in Spearfish City Park as members of the Spearfish American Legion and Auxiliary Post 164 hosted a picnic to hear from high school students who attended Boys and Girls State over the summer.

“It was a really great opportunity for me,” Jay Sayler, Boys State participant, said. “I learned a lot about what it means to be a great citizen. It was really important to learn about government on a level you don’t hear about so much on the news, on the local and state level; that was a really great opportunity.”

“It was the most worthwhile week of my life, and I recommend anyone to do it — yes, one of the best experiences I have ever had,” Kennedy Kaitfors, who attended Girls State, said of the program.

Boys and Girls State are weeklong programs designed to help youth better understand and appreciate the U.S. system of government and way of life including the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, as well as provide knowledge of the fundamental principles of state government in South Dakota. The students participate in all phases of creating and operating a working government as they run for office, practice public speaking, create and enforce laws, and more, all of which contribute to leadership development.

Boys State, organized by the American Legion, takes place at Northern State University in Aberdeen, while Girls State, organized by the American Legion Auxiliary, takes place at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Juniors in high school apply for and are accepted into the program and attend the weeklong programs the summer before their senior year of high school begins.

Participants from Spearfish who attended Boys State were: Cody Garness, Rylee Niesent, Jay Sayler, Thomas Friedrich, Zach Tipton, Nathan Davis, and Peter Marich. Girls State participants were Abbie Woodard, Morgan Roberts, Kenna Comer, Lily Dennison, Kennedy Kaitfors, and Taylor Hersch. Roberts was also one of two high school girls from South Dakota chosen by her peers to attend Girls Nation, a weeklong program focused on national government, in Washington, D.C.

“A large theme of Girls State was ’Participation in government. It’s not just watching it on the news, but it’s going and voting or running for offices. It’s not about whether you win or not, but it’s making sure people understand what you want to see change,” Roberts said.

The students described the activities that kept them busy through the week, the elected officials they met, the friends they made – many of whom they keep in touch with daily through group chats and texts — and the lifelong lessons they learned.

“Boys State I felt was an extremely beneficial opportunity for me and my fellow Boys Staters, and for the Girls Staters, as well,” Niesent said, adding, “We learned a lot of valuable skills about how important democracy is in our world, and I felt that was extremely beneficial for me as I turn 18 and become an eligible voter.”

“I really enjoyed the Boys State experience for all the perspective it gave on really what South Dakota politics means, whether from a town, or county, or state, even up to the national level, what South Dakota does in Washington, to ensure that the state is well represented and that things work well for the nation as a whole,” Friedrich said.

“Learning about the government, mostly on the local level, was really a good experience. Boys State, mostly for me, taught me the importance of that – I’d say it accounts a lot more for what really happens and effects you at the local level, and it’s really important to vote,” Davis said.

The students voiced their appreciation to the Spearfish American Legion Post and Auxiliary for sponsoring the participants’ attendance at the program.

“I had a great experience, and I would really like to thank the Legion,” Davis said.

“I don’t even know how to thank you guys for this. It was amazing. I got to look so deep into government and to see exactly how it worked …” Marich said.

“You make a big impact on these kids’ lives,” Roberts said.

For more information about the programs, visit boysandgirlsstate.org.

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