By Rachel Anderson EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Lone Peak High School is sending six students to the annual American Legion Boys State and Auxiliary Girls State for the school’s debut at both events.

Boys and Girls State teach high school students how government functions and help develop leadership skills, as well as an appreciation for citizen’s rights.

Boys State will be held June 5-10, and Auxiliary Girls State is June 12-18. Both will take place at Carrol College in Helena.

LPHS social studies teacher Tony Coppola, a member of Big Sky’s Sons of American Legion, was a driving force encouraging the school’s administration and students to become active in the events.

“We have a lot of enrichment and extracurricular things that are going on at the school in different fields, but we don’t have a lot in social studies,” Coppola said.

All participants will have completed their junior year of high school and students were chosen based on class performance, public speaking ability and interest in government.

Big Sky’s American Legion Post 99 will fund the entire cost of the programs for all the local students, and next year plans to reach out to local businesses to help sponsor participants.

“This is huge for the American Legion Post 99,” Coppola said. “Being a Sons of American Legion, I thought it was a great idea. It builds a bond between the community and the school.”

The American Legion began Boys State in 1935 in Springfield, Ill. Currently held in 49 states, this year’s participants for LPHS include Bridger Babcock, Eddie Starz and Devin Quinn.

Students are elected to various offices and function in those roles throughout the week. Activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands and chorus, as well as other recreational programs.

“I’ve always been interested in government at all levels but especially that of local governments,” said LPHS junior Devin Quinn. “Because of the smaller area of focus, [local] governments are more often concerned with what is going on directly with their citizens. Problems are solved with more ease, and it just seems to have a greater impact on local areas.”

All the participants are Coppola’s high school government students, and the class’s final project—drafting a legislative bill—is related to the competition.

Montana’s American Legion Auxiliary Girls State will include LPHS students Luisa Locker, Dasha Bough and Ellie Quackenbush, who will participate in the weeklong program of nonpartisan curriculum. American Legion Auxiliary is a women’s organization that serves the needs of the nation’s veterans, military and their families.

Split into governments of six fictional cities named after gemstones in Montana, the girls will each come with a drafted bill to present. Other activities will include a talent show, field trips, journalism, debate and public speaking.

“I am very interested in politics on a personal level,” said LPHS junior Ellie Quackenbush. “I love learning about how our country functions and gaining perspective on the many controversial topics involving American government.”

“I think civic awareness and actually knowing what goes on—especially in a town that has no civic engagement opportunities or city government—is huge for them,” said Coppola, referring to Big Sky’s unincorporated status.

Each state’s program varies in content and method of procedure, focusing on teaching government from the township to the state level based on that specific state’s government.

Past alumni include Neil Armstrong, Tom Brokaw, Bill Clinton and Jane Pauley, among many others.

“The American Legion has been trying to get this going with LPHS since it has been a high school,” Coppola said. “The excitement and support from [Post 99] is very impressive.”