Creating the future Leslie Knopes of the world

So here’s a fun game: Spot Kate among the 8th graders!

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Top row: Emma, Haley, Rachel, Hannah, Heaven, my co-mentor Carolyn, Olivia; Bottom row: Reagan, me, Mackenzie, Lauren, Anya

Last week I volunteered as a mentor for Girls’ Day at the State House with the Maine Women’s Policy Center. It was an amazing day, but as you can probably see from the picture of my group, I was often mistaken for one of the students.

The 20th annual event, held at the State House in Augusta, drew 114 girls from around the state this year. The girls spent the day learning about state government and how it runs, the role women play in making decisions in government, and how the girls themselves can use their voices to affect change. The whole day was very hands-on, with the girls meeting legislators, exploring the State House in a scavenger hunt, and participating in a mock trial and debate.

I (along with my co-mentor Carolyn) was responsible for leading a group of 10 girls for the day. Talk about daunting! I had to make their understanding of/passion for government and policies go from this:

To this:

Luckily, Maine Women’s Policy Center did most of the work, because in terms of being passionate about government work, I’m probably a 2 or 3 on a scale of 1 to Leslie Knope. I was there because I’m interested in leadership development and inspiring young girls to use their voices and understand their potential, which I got to do a little bit of!

The day started with advocacy training and I got to lead a discussion with my group about what an advocate does and how they do it. We went through different examples and I helped the girls realize that most of them are already advocates in their schools or communities. We also talked about how to find allies and how to use advocacy to create real change. Surprisingly, knowledge I’ve gained as a reporter came into play a lot in this because I have a very good understanding of how municipal governments and School Boards are run. I was able to talk with the girls about the process of bringing an idea or plan before a board or council.

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Most of the day was focused around a bill that would push back high school start times, and the girls got to advocate for or against it throughout the day. Early in the day there was a mock trial where some of some of the girls were for the bill, some were against it, and the rest got to be state senators and representatives. Each side prepared arguments and then went to the podium to address the “legislators.”

The girls acting as legislators listened closely and asked very thoughtful questions, and the girls at the podium all provided thorough and well thought out answers. It was all very impressive. The “committee” ended up being split, and the bill was sent forward to the House chambers for a debate.

Girls Day

During the debate, if a girl wanted to speak she had to press her microphone button, stand up and address the House, and then argue for or against the bill. This was at the end of the day and it was very cool to see how confident and empowered the girls were as they stood and spoke in front of a very crowded room.

Girls Day debate

After every girl who wanted to speak got a chance to, it was time for a vote. There is a “yay” and “nay” button at every seat and when pressed, a red or green light lights up next to the corresponding name of the person whose seat it is.

Girls Day 2

This was only one of the boards, but as you could probably guess from the photo, the bill didn’t pass. Going into this I kind of assumed the girls would pass this, because what kid doesn’t want to sleep in more? The girls were very logical and rational in their thinking, though, and thought about the serious impacts of changing start times.

Overall, Girls’ Day was a great experience and I probably got as much out of it as the girls did. I even went home that night and wrote a letter to my state representative asking him to argue for a certain bill, which is something I never thought I’d do.

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(Note: Some of the photos were taken by Maine Women’s Policy Center.)

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