Ottawa High School seniors Alex Reed and Vince Sylvester and Central Heights senior Tristan Davis had different experiences at the American Legion Boys State of Kansas program earlier this summer in Manhattan.
The three Franklin County students were among 418 boys from across Kansas who attended the June 9-15 government leadership program on the campus of Kansas State University. Reed said the program opened his eyes to what working in government really is like.
“It actually showed me how tough [holding a government position] really is,” Reed said. “It showed me how important city and county officials are for [a city and county] to function.”
Boys State is an interactive simulation program that invites high school boys who are entering their senior year to participate in mock governments, campaign for city, county and state-level positions and make decisions similar to what government officials make on a daily basis. Boys are nominated to go to Boys State by their school counselors and influential people in their lives, according to a Boys State press release.
A separate Girls State event also takes place each summer.
Of the three Franklin County boys, Sylvester notched the most successes in his city as one of four city councilmen for the City of “Spigarelli.”
“We won best city,” Sylvester said. “Our city’s economy was the best. I was rubbing it in Alex’s face a little.”
Reed had a much different experience as a city treasurer for Johnson City in McArther County.
“We had a tornado hit our city [during the simulation],” Reed said. “We had to completely rebuild our city because it was destroyed. We had to go out to the different organizations and convince them why they should support our city.”
Davis was a county commissioner for Bradley County. He, along with Reed and Sylvester, said that he now has a much better understanding about how government functions.
“It is a lot harder than people think it is,” Davis said. “I plan to use the skills I learned to understand government more. I would like to work with people in our community to help make our community better.”
Davis said he had to be in the top third of his grade at Central Heights to be eligible to participate in the program. He said his goal was to set up meetings during the simulation and try to make money for his county. He said that communication was a key factor throughout the process.
“You’ve got to be able to get your thoughts out there if you are going to be a political leader,” Davis said. “You’ve got to work as a team and work with the group that is sponsoring you. You have to have good people skills.”
The workload was heavy for the high school students. All three boys said they were so busy they barely saw each other once the simulation began.
“I probably gave like five or six different presentations to different commissioners a day,” Sylvester said. “It was definitely hard adjusting and working with everybody. Everyone had differing opinions and mindsets. Two of the guys were just impossible to work with, so that was hard.”
Sylvester had a lot of fun and learned a lot about taking initiative, he said.
“The most important thing I learned is that if you don’t take advantage of something, someone else will,” Sylvester said. “Maybe I’ll run for some position someday, but you can’t really complain about government because [Boys State] opens your eyes to how government is run. It made me more respectful [toward] the people in public office.”
Reed said he also learned a lot about how government is actually run.
“[Boys State taught me] how to tackle the ordinances and the paperwork that is needed to fix a city’s infrastructure,” Reed said.
The high-level government positions, including the governor and district attorneys, were positions that required boys to campaign to earn their spots, Reed said.
Apart from the simulation, the students at Boys State also heard from several keynote speakers and stayed in the dorms at K-State. All three said they met a lot of new people throughout the week.
“I definitely made a lot of new friends,” Sylvester said. “I met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”