During the summer between the junior and senior year of high school, Wisconsin students have the opportunity to participate in a week-long program that teaches leadership skills and government process. The Badger State Boys and badger State Girls programs offer the chance for selected students to create a mock government as student citizens elect leaders in 27 cities, nine counties, and a “51st” state encompassing the entire program.
This year 10 Sauk Prairie High School students were selected to attend the program.
Students who have an interest in participating need to apply and have been nominated by a teacher. The government teachers and a group of other teachers convene and make their selections. Local organizations such as the American Legion and its auxiliary and Optimists sponsor the students, paying for them to participate in the program. Male students attend the program at Ripon College while the girls head to UW-Oshkosh.
For the past 32 years, Sauk Prairie High School math teacher Mary Walz has served as the district’s volunteer counselor to participating Badger State students.
“I had the opportunity to attend Badger Girls State while I was in high school and the opportunity made a significant difference in my life,” Walz said. “So much so, I wanted to give back to the program. It helped me develop leadership skills, a sense of pride in Americanism and a desire to promote good citizenship.”
Students in their junior year learn about the American government, which often helps garner interest in the Badger State program. Selected students participate during the summer between their junior and senior years of school, with the thought the students will come back their senior year and be able to utilize the skills they learned in the program.
“It’s an opportunity for students going into their senior year to learn about government by modeling a fictitious 51st state, the functions of a city, county and state,” Walz said. “Students serve as delegates and run for various offices. If elected, they carry out mock scenarios of meetings, budgets, platforms and law-making. They also do ordinances at the city and county level and write bills to become laws. And citizenship is a part of it because they are running for office.”
Walz said students also learn about the election process with the hope of developing a comfort for voting when they turn 18 and meet other student leaders from around the state. Ultimately the goal is for students to have a better understanding of some governmental procedures through hands-on scenarios.
“So even if they are not going into a government-related field, they know how the government’s actions can impact their careers and lives,” Walz said.
Collaboration and problem-solving skills and improved public speaking skills are among the abilities senior Carson Radl said he picked up from attending Badger Boys State.
“I gained a lot of good friends, got better at public speaking and gained a better understanding of the government and how it works,” Radl said. “I learned how it looks to campaign for a public office — and how to work together with a group of people that don’t always agree.”
He said even though he isn’t pursuing a career in politics, the skills he learned through the program will help him no matter which path he chooses. Radl said it will definitely help him when it comes time for him to vote.
“I now know more about how it works and it makes me want to dig deeper and understand potential candidates better,” Radl said.
Sarah Albers, who comes from an FFA background, said already knowing about the parliamentary process helped her at Badger State.
“It helped me take charge more quickly,” Albers said, who was ultimately elected mayor during the program. “It showed me you can’t just watch T.V. and take a candidate’s word for it. You have to look into them more.”
Albers, who is president of the senior class and is on FFA said the skills she learned at Badger State have helped her better understand how to work with and lead a big group of people. “It gave me more practice,” Albers said.
For Alexandra Dunnum, Badger State helped her develop her ability to speak in public more easily, and how smaller-scale elections and government works within cities.
“It helped me understand more of what goes on in the government and more importantly, how to advocate for myself if I want to address something on the city or state level,” Dunnum said. “I have always had a very large interest in politics and government, and really enjoy thinking through topics under debate.”
Ashley Brickl and Grace Vils agreed that the Badger State program has provided them with a foundation of understanding for the political process.
“I learned you have to really research who you are voting for and learn not to just take what they say at face-value,” Vils said. “I realized just how important it is to be involved and to pay attention to all of the issues — not just the ones that fascinate you.”
Walz said in general, students who attend programming through Badger State are more active in school organizations and are service-oriented.
“They tend to be president of some of our stronger school organizations and show leadership in terms of serving as captains in athletic or other groups,” Walz said. “Their participation is a benefit to the school and community, in terms of the leadership skills they bring back, and advocacy and Americanism.”