Education Feature: Girls get glimpse of politics

Freedom Newspapers: Karl Terry Dharshyani Kesavan, front, of Clovis listens on stage as election results are announced during New Mexico Girls State at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.

By Helena Rodriguez: CNJ staff writer

Approximately 150 high school senior girls from around New Mexico have thrown their hats into the political arena this week to get a firsthand feel for government in action.

They are all taking part in New Mexico Girls State, a week-long program being staged at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales and sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary.

Brooke Reed of Portales, a student at Floyd High School, got her feet wet in politics when she, a member of the fictional Federalist Party, saw a discussion on scholarships escalate into a debate over immigration issues.

“The discussion had to do with scholarships and a debate started (Tuesday) because the scholarships would be awarded to students no matter what their (citizenship) status was,” Reed said. “I think it was educational because you got to see others’ views and what they are thinking. You see both sides of the issue.”

Prior to this week’s program, Reed’s only previous experience with politics has been serving on the student council at her school. As a Federalist, she is running for a county treasurer position in the fictional county of Washington.

Girls State uses practical experience to teach girls about government processes, from the local to the state and national levels. The program also emphasizes the responsibilities of each individual as a citizen. It has been 10 years since the summer program has been held in Portales. The national program, started in 1947, is celebrating its 60th birthday.

Danielle Gilliam, the public relations representative for New Mexico Girls State, said that the program strives to offer the girls as realistic an experience as possible, but there are some obvious differences from reality, even aside from the fact that a separate Boys State is held for males.

“There are no race, class or ethnicity issues here,” Gilliam pointed out. “Also, there are no homeless people, like you would find in some towns. They are basically going through the motions. To run for an office in the real world, you need money.”

Brook Bailey of Texico hopes to pursue a career in the medical field and said she has never understood government. Nevertheless, she said the Girls State experience has started her thinking about future involvement in politics at some level. It has also made her more interested in doing jury duty someday.

Dharshyani Kesavan of Clovis said, “I had no picture in my mind of the government process, but now I have a good picture of how it all runs. This is good too, because we are seniors and many of us can vote in the next election so it is good to know the background of how it all runs.”

At Girls State, participants will participate in mock trials and a mock Congress with their two fictional parties, the Federalists and the Nationalists. During the session, they will learn what happens to a bill, from start to finish. The experience is also giving them more insight into how a political campaign is run and what constituents should be looking at.

“This experience has helped us look at who is running now,” Bailey said. “It’s not just about what party a person belongs to. This experience has really helped us to know how to pick a candidate to vote for.”

Kesavan said she didn’t realize how exhausting the political process can be.

“None of us expected to have a schedule from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night,” she said. “The time goes so fast, and we are so busy.”