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For Educators - K-12 Promising Approaches
Maine Dirigo Girls State
Grade level: Girls who have completed their Junior year
Dirigo Girls State has four program objectives:
Dirigo Girls State held its first session in 1947. It is a program sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. Girls State sessions are held in 49 states, usually at college or university campuses. Sessions are usually one week in duration. Girls State is a “Youth Citizenship Program for Young Women”. It offers training in the process of self-government and good citizenship as practiced in a democratic society.
Girls State is designed to instruct girls who have completed their junior year in high school in the process of local, county, and state government. This is experienced through a simulation of each aspect of the government process. Girls are assigned to be members of a fictional town, county, and the State of Dirigo. At the beginning of the week, they participate in local Town Meetings, acting on Articles in a Warrant. From there they take out nomination papers for State and County offices, participate in caucuses and rallies, and learn what it takes to run a campaign for public office. They are taught, and participate in, Primary and General Elections and eventually elect their own Governor, Legislature, and County Officials.
Girls State includes the operation of a model Senate and House of Representatives and County Officer’s meetings. Bills of current concern to youth are debated and acted on through the same procedure as that of the regular state government. Hearings of the bills offer all citizens a chance to express their opinions.
For those girls not elected to an office in County or State Government, simulated activities in Mock Trials and a Lobbyist program provides opportunities for everyone to actively participate in some aspect of government.
Girls State teaches that one can be a good citizen by participating in the process regardless of whether or not one actually runs for or holds a political office. The program includes a patriotic component. Flag Etiquette is taught and practiced during the weekly session.
Girls are eligible to attend Dirigo Girls State if they meet the following criteria:
Delegates to the Girls State session are selected by the American Legion Auxiliary Units working cooperatively with the local high schools. Contributions to pay for each delegate’s tuition come from the Auxiliary Units, local businesses and organizations, schools and its affiliates, or profession people or groups. Delegates may not pay their own way.
The program requires the continued sponsorship of the American Legion Auxiliary and its Girls State Committee composed of Auxiliary members. Material is sent each year to every high school in the State Of Maine. Schools are asked to help select delegates to participate in the program. Auxiliary Units make the final selection and see that money is available to sponsor each delegate.
Nora Thombs, Director, Dirigo Girls State Program: I speak for myself as well as many other staff members who at one time were also delegates to Dirigo Girls State. Forty –six years ago I was selected to be a delegate at Girls State. At that time it was the most select opportunity one could have. Now there are numerous opportunities for young people to learn and participate in mock government programs. Then, it was the only one available and considered to be a great honor.
I cannot say that I went on to become a recognized government official, but I did learn the importance of each person’s vote and the need to become knowledgeable of the process of government. I used my knowledge both as a delegate and later as a counselor and Education Director to become a Town Moderator of my home town and to officiate at all our town meetings.
Edith S. Leary, Executive Director, Eaton Peabody Consulting Group: I attended Girls State the summer of 1976. I was lucky enough to be voted Governor and spent the next year, my senior year of high school, fulfilling speaking engagements around the state and representing the 400 delegates of Girls State. I also attended Boys-Girls Nation in Washington D.C. for three weeks, and attended the National American Legion Convention in Seattle, Washington. All this happened one whirlwind summer to a shy girl from Winthrop High School who had barely been out of her hometown.
One of the impacts Girls State had on me immediately was to empower me to have confidence in myself. Arriving at Husson College the first day, the mantra which we still hold dear today, "get involved" rang true. I took the advice my counselors gave me - take full advantage of the five days of Girls State, get involved in every aspect you can, and get to know everyone, because they will be your friends forever.
The weeklong simulation of participating in government was a wonderful way to learn how to be a contributing citizen. Girls State doesn't just teach you about government - it forces you to participate in the governmental process. And that is the best way to realize that one person can make a difference. I have carried that lesson into my adult life and into my career as a legislative lobbyist and political consultant. I have returned to Girls State as often as possible as a counselor, and have been honored the past few years to be one of the Education Directors.
Sarah Kennedy, 2005 participant in Dirigo Girls State: As a participant in the 2005 session of Dirigo Girls State, I cannot give the program enough praise. Before Girls State, I never felt comfortable in leadership roles. I was lacking in the confidence, and, most importantly, the belief that what I could accomplish as a leader had any value. Girls State proved to me that leadership is for anyone and that the goals one can meet far outweigh the potential threat of making one's opinions open for criticism.
Nora Thombs, Director
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