American Legion Post 133 in Palmetto Bay hosted the annual Girls State orientation meeting on Sunday, June 7.
Ten young ladies selected as delegates to go to Tallahassee for the program attended the briefing with family members and others. The post’s Women’s Auxiliary runs the local part of the program.
The hour and a half briefing was conducted by local Women’s Auxiliary officers Beverly Evans and Betty Gardner, with most of the information presented by Sylvia Fidler, the Department Girls State chair, who has been in the program since 1978 and in the Auxiliary for 40 years.
“Service is our motto,” Fidler said, speaking about the American Legion and the program. “Everything we do is for the greater good. Girls State is held in 50 states and Panama. It teaches rights and responsibilities and a lot more.”
The program has been going on since 1947. There are currently 35 staff members and 300 delegates statewide who participate. The delegates from the Florida Keys to Hollywood will show up at Post 133 at 2:30 a.m. on July 9 to check in, board a bus, and leave at 3 a.m. to travel to Tallahassee for the eight-day event, returning home on the ninth day.
The girls, all juniors in high school who will be returning for their senior year, stay in dormitories on the campus of Florida State University and attend special sessions at the State Capitol. They begin by dividing into two “parties,” the Federalists and Nationalists, in 12 cities of 25 girls each.
They participate in pep rallies, “law school” and a “bar exam” and a government test before tackling bill writing and an election. They will sit in on sessions at the Capitol where they also will take part in a mock trial and a disaster drill.
At the briefing each girl received a packet of information, forms to fill out and sign, a code of conduct, Capitol rules and policy, and a legislative handbook. Such things as phone use, camera use and proper attire for the Capitol are strictly enforced.
Betty Gardner, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary representing the 14th District, said the program has changed a bit over the years but that the opportunity to learn about the government is still the main benefit for the girls.
“When they come back, they say they learned more there than they do in school,” Gardner said. “The mock trial is very good. They have lawyers come in and show how to be a prosecutor or defender. They give them a case that’s already been tried, to see if they come out with the same verdict.”
Caridad Dominguez, a District 14 student from St. Brendan High School, representing South Miami, said she is looking forward to participating.
“This means an opportunity to be one step closer to my career, my future in government, hopefully,” she said. “It’s a career that I have been wanting since I was a little girl. It’s a great opportunity to meet people, amazing girls who are all interested in government, and to show my pride for this country. I would like to go to law school preferably and study tax law. I enjoy both math and law. I’ve taken two law classes at my school and I loved those classes.”
Ciara Biederman, a District 9 student attending Hollywood Hills High School, also is eager to go to Tallahassee as a Girls State delegate.
“I’m really interested in government and how as citizens we can change the way that government is by voting,” Biederman said. “And my dad is involved in local government. I’m just really excited to have the opportunity.”
Additionally there is an FSU scholarship available for one of the girls, and a Samsung scholarship for one who is a direct descendant of a wartime U.S. veteran. Two girls will be chosen from each state to go to Washington, DC, to participate in Girls Nation to learn about government on the federal level. That takes place from July 25 to Aug. 1.