Two Mariner High School juniors were selected and sponsored by the Pine Island American Legion Women's Auxiliary Post 136 and sent to Tallahassee during the summer to participate in the Girls State program.
Girls State is the summer leadership and citizenship program sponsored by the American Legion for high school juniors. The legion has been celebrating Girls State since 1938 and the Pine Island American Legion Ladies Auxiliary has been sending representatives to Girls State since 1991.
Pine Island resident Gerilynn Rossman and Cape Coral resident Megan Tedlie were selected as this year's attendees. They were asked to attend Wednesdays meeting at the Legion, where approximately 50 people filled the hall.
Pine Island resident Gerilynn Rossman, right, and Cape Coral resident Megan Tedlie were selected and sponsored by the Pine Island American Legion Women's Auxiliary Post 136 and sent to Tallahassee during the summer to participate in the Girls State program.
The girls are nominated by their guidance counselors during the summer of their junior year. They go to Tallahassee in their senior year.
"Our counselor told us about it at first," Tedlie said. "There were 10 or 12 kids that turned in applications and then we all came out to Pine Island for an interview with the Women's Auxiliary member board. Each of us was given an opportunity to tell them why we should get to go to Tallahassee and they selected us."
Once Tedlie and Rossman were selected, they went through an orientation process.
Auxiliary member and chair of Girl's State committee Sonny Koutsoutis said during the course of orientation the girls were given a comprehensive review of what to expect during their week in Tallahassee. The program ran from June 13-21. The two girls arrived in Tallahassee June 13.
"We stayed on the campus of Florida State University in the dorms," Rossman said. "It was really daunting at first, when we first got there, but after we got to our rooms and to our cities it really smoothed out. We were given a little time to get acquainted with each other and we made up a city."
Program participants are divided into cities where they elect mock municipal officials and representatives to the mock state legislature. All the girls campaign, run for office and elect officials for each city during the week's stay at the capital. State officials and governors are also elected.
"There were three sets of elections," Tedlie said. "First the girls elected city office holders: mayor, city council, fire chief. Then there were state elections where they elected governor, lieutenant governor, state supreme court justices. Then there were county elections where judges and county attorneys were elected. We were elected as county attorneys."
On the day the girls go to the state House, they are required to bring a bill with them to be presented to the mock legislature. This mock legislature meets to organize, elect leaders and pass bills in the same way the state legislature operates.
"As county attorneys we spent some time at the state House and the capital but we spent most of our time at the Supreme Court," Ms. Rossman said. "And we got to meet Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga and lots of students that were interning at the Supreme Court.
The girls made a mock oral argument before the court where they argued their points before a panel of judges. The judges then issued a ruling on who won the case.
One of the assignments was for each girl to write a bill. Tedlie's bill was one of 11 passed and signed by the "governor." It was an amazing piece of hard work which detailed a plan to control the invasive Burmese python population in the Everglades, as well as regulate both sellers and owners by micro-chipping them as a means of tracking and preventing them from being dumped in the Everglades.
When the girls were called to the podium for remarks, they thanked everyone for the opportunity to participate in Girls State and thanked the American Legion Women's Auxiliary for "this wonderful opportunity to meet 298 other amazing girls... This has been a great experience," Rossman said. "We both feel so privileged and honored to attend Florida's Girls State. Not many people have the opportunity to get a glance into our government as we have this summer."
The girls presented Koutsoutis with a plaque showing their appreciation. In turn the Women's Auxiliary presented the girls with plaques.
Each of the two girls believe the Girls State experience has been a positive one.
"I really don't know what I want to do but Girls State really opened my eyes to law and the judicial system," Tedlie said.
"This experience has gotten my interest in law but I'm actually more of an engineer, I build robots. I really wanted to do this to experience something very different from engineering," Rossman said. "It's made me lean towards biomedical and forensics where maybe I could do more to help people."