Four students from Spring Grove High School recently had a weeklong hands-on experience in what it is like to be a party of city, county, and state governments.

These students attended the American Legion Boys State and the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State. The students attending were Jack Benson, Caleb Happel, Jayme Lenning and Sammi Boyd.

The students were sponsored by Dyrdal-Prolow American Legion Post #249 and its auxiliary in Spring Grove.

Benson earns honors at state

Boys State is an annual program in its 65th year. There were 363 in attendance. Each year Boys State honors 12 Outstanding Boys Staters. These boys are selected by the Boys State counseling staff based on the boys' "leadership abilities, cooperation, attention to program, participation in activities, behavior, physical condition, offices or appointments held and test scores."

Jack Benson, son of David and Michelle Benson, was one of the 12 selected for this special honor.

"We are so excited to announce these students as our 2013 Outstanding Boys Staters, deemed by their cities to possess the highest leadership qualities," said Mike Bredeck, director of the program.

"It was an absolute honor to attend Boys State," Benson said. "Receiving this honor was pretty awesome! I had no expectations to go that far and knowing that I was selected by adults of my city really means a lot to me. If I could attend this week again, I would!

"I learned that politics are a lot more than just debating things; there is a lot of thinking and planning, and I learned what it takes for one person's idea to get all the way through the system. It takes a lot more work than I realized. What I learned will stick with me for many years to come."

Overseeing and working with the boys at Boys State are a variety of adults and counselors of many ages.

"I was approached to come back as a counselor next year, and I'm really thinking about doing it," added Benson.

Caleb Happel also agreed that he learned a lot from the experience of Boys State.

"One of the things that really stuck with me was the message on respect - Respect of not only people, but also your community. They were lessons learned that I will take with me through the rest of my life," Happel explained.

"We met so many people from many different backgrounds - from big cities to towns smaller than Spring Grove. It was a great experience meeting them. If someone has the chance to attend Boys State, I would definitely recommend them to go - it was definitely worth it!"

Jayme Lenning also remarked that he made many new friends and learned a lot about government that he didn't know before.

"We began on the first day with shaking hands with these boys that were strangers, by the end of the week they were friends. The experience really helped me to learn to communicate and to learn to take on a leadership role. It was a neat experience to unite as a group as we formed our cities."

He added that Boys State isn't necessarily for only those that are very interested in politics, "I learned a lot about how government is run and about all of the many different roles that a city and county have in order to function. It was a really good experience and I learned a lot."

Boys State began June 9 and continued through June 15. It was held on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.

City elections are just a small part of the entire process at Minnesota Boys State. Delegates (all high school juniors from hundreds of high schools) are assigned one of two fictional political parties and given the opportunity to participate in the city, county and state level nominating processes.

At the end of the week, scholarships and awards are given out to the highest achievers, and a student governor is named to oversee the program into 2014.

Girls State also attended

Girls State is a program for teaching how government works while also developing leadership skills and a knowledge and appreciation for rights as a citizen.

Participants run for office, learn public speaking, create and enforce laws and participate in all phases of creating and running a working government.

Girls State was also held June 9 through the 15th at Bethel University in St. Paul.

"I am very glad I went to Girls State. It was an amazing experience and I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to go," commented Sammi Boyd.

"When I went, I wasn't sure what to expect. I definitely learned about government, but the most unexpected thing that I learned from Girls State was that no matter what your background or who you are, we all have more in common than appears on the surface."

According to its website, "Citizens (girls attending Girls State) are divided into two political parties gaining knowledge of the operations of a two-party system.

"They formulate their cities electing the officials then proceeding on to the county development finalizing with the state government."

"The people that I met and made friends with was the most memorable part of Girls State," added Boyd. "It's crazy how you can get close to someone in such a short amount of time."