(HELENA) This week, high school girls from around Montana have come to Helena for an opportunity to learn more about how their government works.
On Sunday, about 130 high school girls from around Montana met at Carroll College’s Guadalupe Hall to check in for the annual American Legion Auxiliary Montana Girls State program.
During the weeklong program, the attendees will be organized into mock cities, counties and a state. They will then take on leadership roles and simulate the workings of each level of government.
This is the 70th year of Montana’s Girls State program. The American Legion Auxiliary started it as a way to teach students about the American system and how to be an active citizen.
“That’s what we’re trying to do here in experiential learning, by giving the girls hands-on experience – doing mock legislation in the actual Capitol chambers, doing mock trials in the actual Supreme Court and District Court chambers, with real lawyers and judges,” said Girls State director Jen Dalrymple.
Those attending Girls State come from across Montana. This year, one actually lives in California and is attending while staying in Montana during the summer.
The delegates have a variety of goals for the week. Whitney Wyche, from Corvallis, said she became interested in the program because she is a speech and debate competitor.
“At Girls State, I would have more experience public speaking, so I thought it would be a great opportunity,” she said.
Maggie Jensen is one of two delegates from Power High School. She said she was interested in women’s role in government.
“I really want to see how that is,” she said. “I want to be able to learn more about it, so I can hopefully help to broaden that.”
This year’s Girls State program comes amid nationwide discussions about women’s interest and involvement in politics. Female candidates were also very successful in Montana’s primary election on Tuesday – most notably Kathleen Williams, who won a narrow race to become the Democratic nominee for the state’s U.S. House seat.
Dalrymple said she believes the attention to women in politics has brought additional interest to Girls State.
“The girls are becoming more confident and more encouraged by successful women,” she said. “We bring back Girls State women as counselors. Some of our Supreme Court justices were Girls State, some of our lawyers are Girls State.”
Two of the delegates will be chosen to represent Montana at the Girls Nation program in Washington, D.C., in July.
The program is open to students going into their senior year of high school. Dalrymple encouraged girls to apply for next year’s event.
“It only gets better because of the ideas, the enthusiasm and the energy that the young Montana girls bring to Helena once a year for this program,” she said. “Think about it. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”