Maine Dirigo Girls and Boys State has been educating future leaders in Maine since 1947. The program sponsored by the American Legion holds sessions in 49 states for one week. Girls State is described as 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.”
The participants are girls finishing their junior year of high school. The counselors are delegates from the previous year.
In Windham, the delegates are chosen by an AP US history teacher for the girls and the boys have to go through an interview process. Most of the delegates are sponsored by local American Legion chapters. There were a total of 229 girls in attendance.
This year Windham sent three delegates to Girls State, two to Boys State. Kiara Tringali and Cole Moran returned as counselors. The mock government takes the girls through an election on all levels all the while using guest speakers from the real world of politics to answer questions and inspire those in attendance.
“It was a nice opportunity for me to work with girls who really care about government,” said Tringali.
Girls State was held at Husson University in Bangor and Boys State was across town at Thomas College. Each floor of the two dorms is considered a town. Each dorm is a county. Each girl caucuses with her political party before general elections and then state elections, according to Tringali. “It’s set up like a real election,” she said. The girls man the polls and vote by town. It takes the girls three days to hold all of their elections, while it takes the boys at Boys State only two.
“It’s about the process. Some girls come in and want to be governor. I ran for governor,” Tringali said. “I had no idea what I was getting into.”
For the final two days of the event, the elected governor addresses all the delegates and explains which bills she wants to pass. Bills are given to the governor like physician assisted suicide, housing rights and wind farms, according to Tringali. This year they were given 14 bills, but they didn’t get to all of them.
At Boys State, the boys write their own bills and pass them.
Governor Paul LePage and Senator Susan Collins both spoke to the girl delegates this year. Collins spoke about what it means to be a woman in politics, Tringali said. A state senator, the director of Seeds of Peace and the Waterville mayor also spoke.
“Last year at this time I had no idea what I wanted to do. I’m at a very different place this year,” Tringali said. She thought she wanted to go into the field of neuro-science, but now she plans to major in politics with a minor in journalism at Brandeis University.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Tringali, who added that when it’s all over the delegates go home and sleep for three days.