WINNSBORO — Fairfield Central senior Brandi Bell just started the new school year after a busy summer. Brandi attended a four-week long Outward Bound program — for the third time — at the University of South Carolina, stayed a week in Charleston while visiting the College of Charleston campus and had a successful run during the week-long 67th annual Palmetto Girls State program at the Presbyterian College.
What is Palmetto Girls State? In a nutshell, it introduces high school students to government and politics.
Palmetto Girls State is a one-week leadership and citizenship training program sponsored by the American Legion. It was created to educate outstanding high school students about state and local government and citizenship.
Girls attending Palmetto Girls State experience governmental procedure by simulating political campaigns, elections, and the political process. They also learn about the principles of citizenship and public service from guest speakers, expert panels and staff members.
The delegates, who are rising seniors in high school, are selected for the program based on the leadership skills and involvement they have shown in their respective schools and communities. They will create local governments, devise political party platforms and ultimately elect a Senate, a House of Representatives, and state constitutional officers.
Program participants are first divided up into subgroups referred to as cities. The citizens of each of these cities elect mock municipal officials and representatives to the mock state legislature. If enough citizens are present, then a county level is added to the program between city and state.
Because the hundreds of students at any given Girls State represent the top talent of that age year, winning a high office, such as Governor or Superintendent, can be an important event in distinguishing achievement for college admissions.
While each state’s offerings differ, many programs offer college credit to those attending Girls State. Additionally many colleges and universities offer scholarships and other awards to those attending a Girls State program.
In Brandi’s case, she reached the heights of Superintendent.
Week of change
Upon arriving at Presbyterian College, Brandi and the rest of the girls were broken up into two groups including federalists and nationalists. She was a nationalist. At first, she was skeptical about running for office, but the decision to do so paid off in the end.
Brandi began her run by being voted to county council, then state representative and finally to the constitutional office earning the position Superintendent of Education.
During each campaign, Brandi had to give a speech to persuade her peers to elect her to the position. For county council, she gave a speech to 65 girls and for state representative, she spoke to 300 peers.
Even though the previous speeches were nerve wrecking, when the time came to run for Superintendent, Brandi said she wanted to go big or go home.
“The superintendent speech was more stressful but afterwards I felt good,” Brandi said. “I am proud that all my peers saw something in me and elected me.”
Her speech revolved around the two issues: underfunding and early-childhood education.
“We get to where we are in life because of education,” Brandi noted. “So how can the system that gets us to where we are be underfunded? I also believe it would be great if we could get every 4-year-old in the state into school. That year they’re not in school could cause them to became stagnant. It is a critical period in their life and they need that time to start a strong foundation.”
Brandi’s final speech was given to over 600 girls, the largest crowd she has ever spoken in front of. Her three speeches helped to improve her public speaking skills, furthered her interest in government and updated her on how the political system operates.
Although, all of the public speaking was a challenge, Brandi’s success during Girls State boosted her self-esteem and confidence. Her counselor, Billie Ann played a big role by supporting Brandi.
“It seemed as though she (Billie Ann) believed in me,” Brandi stated. “Even though I was skeptical, she told me I was going to be great.”
Besides being elected Superintendent, Brandi said her favorite part of Girls State was developing friendships. She stayed in the International House on the Presbyterian College campus with 26 other girls. They all came from different backgrounds, but still keep in touch by phone, text messages or social media.
“It felt good to go into an atmosphere where everyone is kind of like you,” Brandi noted. “They all want to do something and have a dream for themselves and are there to help you while trying to make their dreams come true as well.”
If given the opportunity, Brandi recommended her fellow students at Fairfield Central to take part in the Girls/Boys State program during the coming year.
“People always say Girls State is a week that will change your life,” Brandi said. “I know that I grew from the experience and overall it was a time to grow and evolve.”
Fairfield County inspiration
Brandi has lived in Ridgeway her entire life, and her parents have always inspired her to be the best person she could be.
“Growing up in a small town my parents have always told me to be better than they were and set myself up to help someone else,” she noted.
Her parents have always pushed her, reminding her that one day she will have to move away from home. Hazel and Dwayne Bell have done their best to prepare their daughter for the life as an adult and encouraged her to explore the countless opportunities outside of Ridgeway.
As a rising ninth-grader, Brandi attended her first camp for science and mathematics in Hartsville. Participating in a camp that was two hours away from home groomed Brandi for life and different experiences outside of Fairfield County.
She attends Lebanon Presbyterian Church, and tries to do as much community service as she can. Brandi said she enjoys listening to the Rev. Hill, because he breaks the message down for her, so that she can take it into the real world and spread the message to friends.
Brandi’s hobbies include writing poetry and listening to music. She believes music provides an outlet for however she is feeling.
“There are so much different types of music out that no matter how you’re feeling you can always find a song to fit,” she said.
Brandi’s favorite author is Robert Frost, and she enjoys reading his poem “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening,” most of all.
This season, she will be on the sideline during Griffin football games working as student-athletic trainer.
“I’m excited about the upcoming season and what my role will be,” Brandi noted. “Athletic training is really fun and we learn something new everyday.”
She hopes to attend the College of Charleston and major in biology. Initially, Brandi will look to choose a career in forensics and crime scene investigation.
As a sophomore, Brandi took a criminal justice class at the Fairfield Career and Technology Center and realized she enjoyed breaking down crime scenes.
However, she did note that she is keeping her options open after taking a trip this past summer and being introduced to becoming a physician’s assistant while touring the MUSC campus.
“I really like it in Charleston,” Brandi said. “It seems there is a little bit of everything and it was great being in a place where there are so many different people with so much history. I like the whole feel of being down there. It was fun walking down king street and shopping at the market place.”