By Derrick Knutson
Two North Branch Area High School seniors now have a much better idea about how government operates after attending the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program at Bethel College June 10-16.
Girls State has been a program of the Auxiliary since 1937, offered to female students who have completed their junior year of high school.
The students who attend Girls State participate in a seven-day mock government program where they learn about civics and American government in a fast-paced, interactive program of campaigning, debating, voting and electing mock local and state leaders, according to the American Legion Auxiliary website.
Kayla Bauer and Erin Kvam were the pair of students this year who represented North Branch at the convention.
Bauer said she heard about Girls State from her grandmother, a member of the American Legion Auxiliary.
“She told me about it and it sounded like a lot of fun,” she said.
Before attending the program – where she lived in a dormitory-style “city” with a group of other girls and was elected to a mock city council member post – Bauer said she didn’t have much first-hand experience with the inner workings of local and state government.
“It was a really new experience for me,” she said. “Everyday we’d go and listen to speakers who talked about how women changed government. It was a lot of fun.”
She added, “At first I didn’t really understand how government works, but being there with a bunch of people my age made it easier to understand.”
Bauer estimated around 300 girls attended the convention.
Kvam said she decided to go to Girls State after being nominated to attend the event.
Like Bauer, she said she didn’t know all of the intricacies of government before going to Girls State, but after participating she now has a much better idea about how the facets of local and state government operate.
“I now have a greater appreciation for what the government is doing because there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it,” Kvam said.
Kvam also had a window into the operations of law enforcement after being elected her city’s police chief.
She quipped she didn’t have to arrest anyone, but she was bestowed some power by being given the master key to her city.
Kvam noted she did have some experience with dormitory-style living before going to Girls State – she works as a camp counselor during the summer – but living in the 22-girl “city” was different than being at camp.
“It was almost like school in a way,” she said.
After high school, Bauer said she plans to pursue a degree in the medical field and Kvam said she plans to go to college for a secondary education degree in social studies.
Neither girl has thought much about potential political aspirations, but they both agreed that Girls State is a worthwhile program, even for girls not planning to become involved with politics.
“It was amazing,” Kvam said. “I would love to do it again.”