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For over thirty years, the Oklahoma American Legion Boys State has operated on the campus of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO). The weeklong camp involves training and activities in leadership, patriotism, and government. This year, over 400 young men selected by their American Legion post gathered on the NEO campus and established a fully functioning government. Along with an updated municipal curriculum, Director Clay Ballenger has focused on improving team building among participants “This year, we wanted to have more team building and fun earlier on,” said Ballenger. “Our core mission remains the same and we have new students each year, but we wanted to make sure that participants had as much hands on experience as they could get.”

New to this year’s program is the in-depth municipal simulation in partnership with the Oklahoma Municipal League. While Ballenger believed the state and county simulation was airtight, his team wanted to focus on giving each member of Boys State a role, even if they aren’t elected to a county of state office. “We implemented the new municipal system and are excited to see how we can improve it for next year,” added Ballenger. “If the boys in a ‘city’ can’t get a bond passed or fails to fund utilities, they might lose access to one of their showers, which is enforced by ‘city’ officials, until the ordinance is passed. Real world consequences such as taking a shorter shower or waiting in a line helps illustrate the stakes in real city governments.”

Ballenger and his team are also ensuring that the students are familiar with the role that social media plays in modern civics. While introducing inflammatory amendments to sabotage bills is common state in state and national politics, Ballenger has sought to educate the young men about how this practice comes with risk, and they won’t always have the opportunity to contextualize their actions. “There is certainly risk in sabotaging bills, especially as social media has grown,” he noted. “We always work to ensure the students have an accurate simulation, but also take into consideration how their actions reflect on themselves and the program.”

Along with the week of activities, Oklahoma Boys State honored Norwegian Legion Marching Band Director Adam Compton with the Outstanding Administrative Staff Award. Each year, Compton works with Boys State participants to form a concert band. Ballenger also awarded Catherine Mattingly and Marsha York from Sodexo with the Director’s Award for their continued dedication to the program. As Boys State nears its eightieth year, Director Ballenger notes that NEO is the perfect location. “We are so fortunate to have NEO and it’s a beautiful campus. The administration has been so supportive for many years and they pretty much turn the campus over to us for the week. While the campus layout accommodates us very well for moving students from building to building, it’s mostly the positive relationship with the administration that keeps us coming back.”

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