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Paynesville Press - July 9, 2003

Staters learn about government at camp

By Ryan Flanders

Jon Scheierl Sami Tiernery Angie Wunsch

Jon Scheierl, Sami Tierney, and Angie Wunsch

In June, three PAHS students got first-hand experience with government at boys' and girls' state camps.

Representing the Paynesville American Legion and Legion Auxiliary were Jon Scheierl and Sami Tierney, and representing the Lake Henry American Legion Auxiliary was Angie Wunsch, who was the alternate for Heather Fuchs, who participated in the Miss Paynesville pageant instead.

Each week-long camp in June included around 450 boys or girls from around Minnesota. The boys' camp was held at St. John's University, and the girls' camp was held at Bethel College.

The objective of both camps is to give participants a hands-on perspective of the inner workings of the different levels of government. The participants were arbitrarily assigned to a political party, and then split into four counties, with four cities in each county.

The camps were structured so that participants learned about an ascending level of government each day, beginning with the city level and ending with the state level. Additionally, participants listened to speakers who were involved in the corresponding level of government.

The highlight of the week for Tierney was when she ran for governor. Though she did not win, she was happy that one of her friends did and enjoyed meeting people and learning about the campaign process along the way. She also learned that it requires a strong voice (literally) when she lost her voice on the second day of campaigning.

"It was fun to have a strong support system of strong girls who I had never met before," said Tierney. "It made me come away with a renewed interest in our youth," she said.

In the course of the week, Angie Wunsch discovered that she had a personal interest in government.

"I actually learned more about government in that one week than I learned during all of school," said Wunsch. Though she had many positive experiences, such as talking to FBI and CIA agents, Wunsch also learned first-hand how easily technical things can mess up the process of government. For instance, on an occasion before her group could leave for lunch, they had to re-vote on a single issue three times due to ballot errors.

Because Bethel College is located just north of St. Paul, the girls spent a day at the state capitol. Wunsch was with a group of girls who went to the Minnesota Supreme Court for mock trials. "We got to sit in the big chairs and play with the buttons," joked Wunsch, who enjoyed the up-close perspective.

At the capitol, Tierney was with a different group that voted on bills in the Minnesota House and Senate.

The girls concluded their week with a giant ball, at which their elected government officials addressed the crowd of girls, who donned their prom dresses.

"It was kind of funny because it was all girls dressed up for all girls," said Tierney.

Scheierl's interest was piqued by the time-consuming, diplomatic aspect of government. "It's interesting because you have so many guys trying to push different parts of a bill and make compromises without angering anybody," he said.

Because there can be so many different points of view on a single issue, he learned that it is necessary to have time limits within the system of government. When his own group had a mock House session, they needed a special session to cover all the items on their agenda. Although the boys didn't have a ball, Scheierl was amazed to see the response to a Veteran's Affairs speaker, who mentioned a WWII memorial that was to be displayed on the mall by the state capitol. When two guys stepped out of the crowd to donate $6, the rest of the crowd followed suit. "It snowballed into $1,100," said Scheierl, who thought it showed how powerful an organized group can be.

In addition to learning about teamwork and parliamentary procedure, Scheierl enjoyed meeting new people during the camp's informal events.

All three of the this year's participants - who will be seniors in the fall - became interested in Boys and Girls State when they were encouraged by their peers, and likewise they plan to sing the same tune now that they've had the experience themselves. "I think it's a good way to learn about government and find out if you're interested in it or not," said Wunsch.

"Give it a try," said Scheierl. "You get to spend a week at St. John's, and you get a lot of good friendships."

"I'd like to thank the American Legion for this unique experience," said Tierney. "A week of government may not sound like fun, but it really is. It was something I'll remember."

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