High schoolers turn into delegates at Dirigo State camp

Published: Jun. 22, 2023 at 6:21 PM EDT
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WATERVILLE, Maine (WABI) - High school students-turned-delegates congregated to caucus at Dirigo State this week at Colby College.

The week-long camp is a mock state government where students establish political parties, hold elections, and represent towns, cities, and counties. They elect a governor and create their cabinet, as well as a Senate, House of Representatives, and Supreme Court — just like in the real state government!

Dirigo State began two years ago after combining Dirigo Boys’ State and Dirigo Girls’ State, making it the first co-ed model state government in the nation. It is designed for students who just completed their junior year of high school and hosts students from schools across Maine.

The American Legion Department of Maine sponsors the camp and makes sure every attendee has free tuition.

The goal of the camp is to introduce students to political and governmental processes through hands-on experience — by debating ideas, holding leadership positions, and figuring out how to balance the state budget.

Despite it being a mock state government, the students transform to fit the roles required of them. This is with the help from volunteers, guest speakers, and collaborating with each other.

“Everyone works well together. Everyone is good at one certain thing and when we combine our strengths and our ideas we get things done very fast,” says Dirigo State-elected Governor Matthew Dos Santos, a student from Cony High School.

Jack McCormick, a student from Cape Elizabeth High School who acted as President of Senate, described the experience as, “Being able to work in the Senate with a group of incredibly intelligent and dedicated and passionate students has allowed me to come to Earth and do things that are plausible while also having a blast.”

It is the camp’s hope that the delegates come out of this experience as informed, engaged, and active community members as they become voters, activists, or civic participants.

“Being an educated voter is one of the most valuable life skills that you can have,” explains Dirigo State Director Matthew LeClair. “So teaching them those fundamentals that they have through their Constitution and how national and state governments are run is so important.”