Rugby’s Thoreson, ND students travel to DC for ALA Girls Nation
For the seventh year in a row, a local advocate for North Dakota’s American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Girls State program participated in Girls Nation, a weeklong exercise in hands-on government held in Washington D.C.
Dana Thoreson, a teacher and speech coach at Rugby schools, traveled to the nation’s capital with two North Dakota high school students to represent their state in mock senate exercises July 24-31. Thoreson serves as director of the North Dakota ALA Girls State program. She also serves on the public relations committee for ALA Girls Nation.
After COVID canceled Girls Nation in 2020, this year’s program had several differences from those in past years, Thoreson said in a phone call from Washington D.C.
“This year was unique because usually, only juniors (participate in the program,)” Thoreson said. “So, junior and senior girls who missed out on it last year because of COVID could attend the program this year.”
The two North Dakota student representatives, called “senators” at Girls’ Nation, had been chosen to attend Girls Nation at the ALA Flickertail Girls’ State program in Grand Forks. Girls State teaches state and county-level governmental procedures, according to Thoreson, who attended Girls State in 1994. One senator came from Dickinson and the second is a student from Wilton.
Thoreson said the program saw more popularity and participation in past years, noting Rugby students hadn’t attended Girls State for a number of years. “We’ve had trouble getting girls to go,” Thoreson said.
This year’s attendance at Girls State had been even lower, Thoreson said; likely due to last year’s program cancelation.
” We had less than 100 this year,” Thoreson said. “Usually we’ve been hovering at around 120. This year, we had between 70 and 80.”
COVID left its mark on participation numbers at Girls Nation as well, according to Thoreson.
“On the national level with ALA Girls Nation, every state elects two girls from their state to attend. That’s put on by the national program and it’s hosted in DC.,” Thoreson explained. “Normally, all 50 states have a program but this year, only 47 states participated in the program somehow, whether it was virtual or onsite. So, only 47 states are represented this year instead of the 50.”
Thoreson said this year, student representatives at Girls Nation “did not have a chance to meet their congressmen. They were greeted on the Capitol steps by Congressman Ben Sasse of Nebraska.”
“A lot of the things were virtual,” Thoreson added. “American Legion Boys Nation is also going on at this time and I do know a handful of boys got to virtually meet with their senators.”
“And right now, it’s hard because (senators are) in meetings and a lot of the things that are going on currently.”
“With the Capitol being shut down, there were things they couldn’t do,” Thoreson noted. “But they do some tours. They tour the monuments. We focused on honoring veterans.”
Attendees participated in a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. “They were able to do that at the changing of the guard,” Thoreson said. Another thing they were able to do was go to George Washington’s house yesterday and see that. So, a lot of the history surrounding our government is what they focus on.”
“They don’t know the difference between what they’re doing now and what we did before COVID,” Thoreson said of the Girls State attendees. “So, their experience here I think has been full and rich. They’re enjoying their time and meeting girls from around the nation and making those lifetime friendships that are going to carry on, which is really neat to see as well.”
Thoreson said the ALA Girls State program offers several benefits for students participating. “It’s leadership; they get a chance to be with other girls from the state. It’s almost a stepping stone as you move into college life,” Thoreson added, noting, “We’re always posted on a college campus. There are lectures as you learn about the government, so you get a peek at what your college life is going to look like. The leadership aspect is really important because it pads their resume.”
In recent years, North Dakota Girls State has taken place on the campus of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
Thoreson said students looking to win a spot at West Point would receive recommendations from their members of congress when they attend American Legion Boys Nation or ALA Girls Nation.
“Years ago, as American Legion Auxiliary Girls State was more well-known and a little bit more elite, we had to cap the numbers,” Thoreson added. “Back in the ’90s, we were at 600 girls, so not everyone who wanted to go could go. But now, we’re really just trying to get everyone who wants to go to go and have those leadership opportunities. There are high school credits that are offered; there’s a half a high school elective credit that’s offered, so that’s kind of been helpful to the girls as well.”
Thoreson noted, “On the national level, I can say there are a lot of states that have dipped down in their numbers as well. I really think we’re up against a lot of opportunities girls are (taking advantage of) during the summer. They’re working in the summer, so if they take a week off for one program, they really can’t take off for another program.”
“Study Abroad trips also kind of fall on our youth at this time,” Thoreson added. “It’s really hard to compete against the Study Abroad trip, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as well.”
Still, Thoreson said she encourages Rugby students to participate in the ALA Girls State program.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to come back and help out in our PR department, doing a lot of our social media, documenting and taking pictures of the girls with everything that’s going on,” Thoreson said. “With me being in the school system, I’m really trying to promote the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program and I want to continue to do that as far as Rugby representation.”
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