I’d like to extend my congratulations to Waynesville High School students Grant Kindred, Bryan O’Barr and William Schenkenfelder, who were recently selected to attend the 2020 American Legion Boys State of Missouri program.
The COVID-19 crisis notwithstanding, if all goes as scheduled, these three students, currently between their junior and senior years, will spend eight days this June on the campus of the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri, learning about how local, county and state governments work in what is essentially a giant, hands-on working classroom.
Equally as important, in my opinion, they’ll meet, interact with and live with students from all corners of the state, giving them (and their parents) a week-long test run of living away from home long before graduating and actually heading off to college, basic training or otherwise starting their own lives next summer.
I had the privilege of attending Boys State all the way back in 1987. More recently, my son, Alex, attended in 2013 prior to his senior year. Between those eras, while advances in technology obviously resulted in a few changes here and there, the core of what Boys State offers has remained the same: Lessons not only about how government works but also how every individual’s contribution and leadership counts.
Just like in real life for most citizens, those contributions start at the local level, and program organizers do this quite effectively by designating each wing of the dormitory the roughly 1,000 Boys State participants reside in its own “city.” Likewise, each dormitory floor serves as its own “county.”
From the time they arrive, every citizen plays a part, from those who run for office, like the mayor and city council, to those who serve on advisory boards, police and fire officials, parks officials to those who represent their city as county officials, delegates to political parties, to those who run and strive for higher office.
Yes, politics is part of it, but not the politics you and I read about every day. Fictional party membership is assigned to each participant (when I was there, we were either Federalists or Nationalists – and neither has any real-world affiliation with any actual party). The point is to teach participants about the mechanics of politics in government.
Participants are also kept busy in the classroom. They can choose from a variety of courses, including political operations, journalism, law, commerce, law enforcement, policy making or public administration. They’ll spend several hours taking notes and putting what they’ve learned into practice (I was on the newspaper staff, for example). While in class, students often get an opportunity to hear from and learn from professionals in those fields.
Participants are kept busy, and are encouraged to get involved, participate in group projects, challenge themselves and strive to set and achieve goals.
All in all, I like to think of the Boys State and Girls State programs as the ultimate civics class, giving students a look at how government works, why public service is so important and how individual efforts can make a big difference in their lives of and the lives of their communities.