Ella Hoyt, a Holtville High School senior, on Dec. 2 presents a scrapbook of her experiences at the Girls State student government program to members and guests at American Legion Post 138. | WILLIAM ROLLER PHOTOS
HOLTVILLE — Ambitious Holtville High School seniors Ella Hoyt and Emil Schaffner took time out from busy schedules to inform the community about their experience this year with California Girls and Boys State.
They are a leadership program of the American Legion founded in 1935 to increase awareness of governmental processes while teaching students about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
The students addressed an audience of
veterans, families and supporters at Legion Post 138 in Holtville on Dec. 2.
In the annual event, students spend a week
participating as part of running mock local, county and state governments.
Girls State convened at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, from June 24-29
and the boys met at California State University, Sacramento, June 20-27.
Diving in the Political Stream
Students often engage in electioneering
upon their arrival and Ella said she knew she wanted to go for something big.
“I was head of the Health and Human
Services Department as an assembly member of the state legislature,” she
recalled. “I had to speak on behalf of my legislative bill before it goes
before the floor of the assembly. It was very fast paced, but one bill we
passed was to sustain aid to veterans.”
Ella explained debating was honestly fun
and she thought it was cool to debate in a government setting and follow the
“I liked listening to the other girls
and by listening you picked up pointers on writing a speech–what to do and
what not to do,” she said.
Toward the end of the week the students
presented a civic expo.
“We set up a tent and had a lot of
greenery,” Ella remembered. “Our town was called Summerville. And we
produced a newspaper and explained how our city functioned.”
Emil recalled he followed a different path,
avoiding elected office, he still engaged in the political process by
“passing the bar exam” and becoming a lawyer.
“Our lead counselor, Dale Major, was
a lawyer in real life,” said Emil. “He said we’d need a lot of money to fund our
legislative programs. But my friend, Oscar, said a lot of students would wind
up arrested. So, we set up a bail bonds business.”
Many students were arrested once their
government began changing the colors of the stop signs, he explained.
“I got a lot of people out of paying
traffic tickets,” Emil said. “On ‘Capital Day’ we helped get a bill
passed to let high school students start school at 10 a.m. (as per
recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control).”
Mentors Frame Legacy of Civic Programs
Andrew Lowenthal, former Imperial County
Sheriff’s Office deputy, addressed the Post 138 audience later in the evening.
A former Holtville resident, he now lives near Austin, Tex., yet he still
serves as adjutant for Post 138.
“Boys and Girls State provides
opportunity for our high school juniors to learn the pros and cons of crafting
government legislation,” he said in an interview. “It will prepare
them for their future. There’s the Eagle Scouts and then there’s the Boys and
Girls State. Those who manage well here will go on to succeed in the outside
Helina and Shannon Hoyt, attended in
support of their daughter Ella. Helina explained Girls State is a great
opportunity to spend time with like-minded peers who are proactive in their
“Even though their opinions are
different, they learned they had to cooperate to achieve a common goal,”
said Helina. “Now, with every college application we receive they want to
know what leadership, community engagement and volunteer experience you’ve had.”
Insider Advice From a Vet
Carlos Zaragoza, the brother of Sgt.
Victor Zaragoza who is honored on Holt Park’s memorial wall, is a veteran, Post
138 member, and advocate of Boys and Girls State. He chatted with Ella and Emil
after their presentations.
“Kids are one of the main reasons to
participate (in Boys and Girls State),” he stressed. “American Legion
is all about patriotism … and integrating our presence in the
Inconspicuously overseeing the evening’s
pot luck dinner and speakers John Jordan, commander of Post 138, has devoted 34
years to the American Legion Post. He explained Boys and Girls State is an
opportunity to learn what is outside Holtville.
“It’s a chance to interact with kids
their own age group,” he said. “They learn about other parts of
California. We’re known in Imperial Valley for farming. But they farm in the
Central Valley, as well as up north, Lassen County. These kids (Ella and Emil) they
met had no idea where Holtville was. But they do now.”