This past June, seniors Ryan Clark and Jordan Halpern attended American Legion Boys State, an educational program of government instruction for high school students. Run by The American Legion, a US Veterans Association, the purpose of this program is to educate boys on how the system of government works. Participants become part of the operation of local, county and state government, and learn the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens. The boys are given an opportunity to run for government positions. Both Halpern and Clark ran for positions and won.
The participants are first selected by someone at their school, then interviewed by groups of veterans. A small group of juniors from each county in California attended, including Clark, Halpern, and students from Drake and Tamalpais High. Clark and Halpern were selected by counselor Laura Triantafyllos. Triantafyllos said that she looked for students based on their academic performance, service to the community, leadership potential and their future aspirations.
“It’s such a great summer program on learning about the government: it’s kind of a microcosm of government and action. Everyone that goes gets a lot out of it and they make lifelong friendships,” Triantafyllos said.
Halpern explained that he wanted to learn how the system of elections work. He said he was fascinated by the psychology of an audience and how a speaker is able to connect with their crowd.
Boys from every region of California gathered at Sacramento State for a week. At the beginning of the week, the boys were split up into “counties” and “towns” based on which dorm they were in and throughout the week formed a “government”. They began by forming a town government and running a local election, where those elected were in charge of making city ordinances. Then there was a county election and those elected made rules that applied to the whole county. The position that Clark won was Treasurer. He said that he ran for that position because the Treasurer controlled how the county appropriated its budget.
“I didn’t think that the legislating process was that interesting, but running for office and the judicial system and getting to meet people was all really cool,” said Clark.
In the state elections, the state government convened to make rules that would apply to all of Boys State.
Everyone was grouped into one of two parties, the Federalists or the Whigs. Halpern ran for Lieutenant Governor and was elected to represent the Federalist Party, but was unable to participate in the general election because of a mistake in counting votes. He ran for that position because it was competitive and he wanted to do a lot of public speaking. The boys had to make a short speech for every position they ran for. After being elected, each winner fulfilled their duties, ranging from raising money or passing laws and bills.
In addition to building a government, the boys went to the state capital and were given the opportunity to meet the staff of Senator Mike McGuire and Assembly Member Marc Levine. At Sacramento State, they were able to meet state senators from Orange and Napa Counties. Both Clark and Halpern said that they enjoyed being around like-minded and driven people and highly recommend the program.
There is a similar program for girls, American Legion Auxiliary, but Triantafyllos said that she has never been approached by any organization that sponsors Girls State.