By Peyton Smith
WEST ORANGE, NJ — Father’s Day 2016 marked the start of the 71st session of American Legion Jersey Boys State. High schools from across New Jersey sent their top juniors to Rider University to participate in this program, which this year had its largest turnout with 986 delegates. West Orange High School sent five students — Austin Bartola, Sushi Kaplan, Chris Osias, Andrei Rosu and Peyton Smith — to represent the West Orange at Boys State.
Boys State was developed in the 1930s to promote American Democracy by teaching young men to become active citizens. The program came to New Jersey in 1946, and today the American Legion sponsors Boy State in 49 states and the District of Columbia; Hawaii is the only state that does not have program.
At Boy State, delegates learn about municipal, county and state government in New Jersey by participating in a mock government. The program is designed so that delegates learn about the structure of government at each level, and then practice it through elections for a wide range of political offices. Once these officials were elected, they had to overcome a series of challenges presented to their city or county, such as failing infrastructure, pollution, increasing crime rates and providing low-income housing.
“Boys State developed delegates into active members of society,” Rosu said. “It was truly a remarkable experience to participate in and understand New Jersey’s system of government, along with making friends for a lifetime.”
Even though Boys State’s main focus is educating high school juniors about politics and government, a variety of seminars were offered to help delegates with their own career planning. With topics including the military, business, leadership, first aid, sports, computer science, engineering and law, there were seminars to guide attendees regardless of their interest. In addition, a college fair introduced delegates to representatives from the service academies and Ivy League schools. Furthermore, delegates had the opportunity to listen to a wide range of guest speakers like U.S. senators and ALJBS graduates Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, as well as Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
“Boys State was an awesome opportunity to meet new people and gain an insight into how the state and local government works,” Bartola said. “The dozens of guest speakers and mock elections allowed me to explore my interest in politics and improve my leadership skills.”
Applications are available in the Guidance Office for students completing their junior year. If selected for the program, it is free to attend. Find out more at http://www.boysandgirlsstate.org/.
Peyton Smith is a senior at West Orange High School participating in the newly formed West Orange News Team. The team will be covering news across the school district, particularly at the high school.