Young ladies from high schools in cities ranging from Coral Gables to Key West gathered at American Legion Post 133 in Palmetto Bay on Sunday, May 20, for an orientation briefing prior to their participation in the annual Girls State program in Tallassee next month.
The meeting was hosted by the post’s Women’s Auxiliary, which runs the local part of the program.
The 14 delegates chosen for 2012 are Lourdes Pomar, Ambar Mesa, Aubree Driver, Erin Czerwinski, Alexandra Fernandez, Sheyla Seara, Jenny Valfre, Jasmine Perez, Lisie Ramos, Rachel Dugard, Taylor Konrath, Malorie Hill, Sarannal Robinson and Avalon Hoek Spaans.
Jenny Valfre found out about the program at Coral Reef High, the school she attends.
“I’m really excited to go,” Valfre said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn about politics and explore possible college majors.”
Lisie Ramos, also a student at Coral Reef, and from the Kendall area, agreed.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for young girls, especially since it’s all girls,” Ramos said. “It helps us shine. I’m very excited to go and learn about the government.”
Girls State staff member Becky Miller gave the introductory presentation to let the delegates know what to expect and also what was expected of them. There are a number of ground rules set by the Girls State organization, by Florida State University whose dormitory houses the students and by Capitol officials.
Miller was excited about making the trip this time.
“I didn’t get to go last year because I had a child,” Miller said. “I’m very excited to go back this year and see all the girls. It’s always wonderful to see a different group of girls and what ideas they have and the different laws that are concentrated on this particular year.”
Miller, who is in her eighth year with the program, said that there is a lot of work leading up to the event each summer.
“We had our first meeting in January,” she said. “There’s a ton of work before the trip. It’s a good program, and a lot of the girls they meet they’ll go to college with. I ended up going to college with a couple of girls I met. I was a Girls Stater in 2000.”
District 14 chair Beverly Evans of Post 133 will get up early on the morning of June 15 because the delegates must arrive at 2 a.m. at the post for the bus that will leave at 3 a.m. to take the group to Tallahassee.
“They have to be here on time so I can check them all out to be sure they have all the forms and things on their list,” Evans said. “They have to read everything in their packets. There have been some changes this year.”
Among the changes dictated by Tallahassee officials for 2012 are new dress codes. Delegates attending session in the Capitol building may wear only plain black slacks with their blouses, not skirts, dresses or other types of pants. They also are required to wear “flats,” no high-heel shoes.
Evans said that another change is that this year the girls don’t seem as enthusiastic about government and that many who might have been delegates were more interested in music camp or other summer programs. But she was pleased by one improvement.
“At least this year they knew what parliamentary procedure was,” Evans said. “Last year they didn’t.”
Now 80, Evans has been involved with the Girls State program for 43 years. The work in Tallahassee, with 300 total delegates and 40 staff members to look after, is daunting but fun.
The program, which involves setting up city and state government groups in two fictitious parties, the Nationalists and Federalists, lasts a week and includes elections, a pep rally, bill writing and committee hearings. There even is a mock trial in the State Supreme Court. Things wrap up with a special dinner and awards night before the return trip home.
Starting in 1947, Florida Girls State is a program designed to “instill an understanding of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship and public service.” The Women’s Auxiliary of the 17 American Legion districts statewide fully funds the costs for the girls attending Girls State, everything from transportation to food and laundry. Several college scholarships are awarded through the program each year.