4-H Capitol Experience engages youth in public policy and empowers their voice

Discover the aspects of 4-H Capitol Experience that make it unique in Michigan. Learn how to register your high school youth today!

The 4-H Capitol Experience education issue group meeting with the Michigan Association of School Administrators to discuss education policy in Michigan.
The 4-H Capitol Experience education issue group meeting with the Michigan Association of School Administrators to discuss education policy in Michigan.

4-H Capitol Experience is a pre-college program that engages high school youth throughout the state of Michigan in exploring the process of making public policy. Youth who participate in this program learn about our state policy through multiple experiences. Throughout the four-day program, youth work in “issue groups” that are small groups of 10-15 participants themed after state legislative committees. Examples of issue groups include education, human services, military and veteran affairs, and agriculture. It is in these groups youth spend the majority of their time. Issue groups work together to determine a statewide issue that is relevant to their group topic and then use our Mock Legislative Simulation to turn that idea into a bill, debate it in a committee, and propose it to the mock House of Representatives or Senate for voting.

The other part of this program that makes it unique from other youth policy programs in the state is that each issue group goes on a series of visits with stakeholders that work in or are related to their group’s theme. Every issue group visits with a legislative aide, a lobbyist and two community organizations or groups. The goal of these visits is twofold. First, the stakeholder visits create an opportunity for youth to explore a variety of careers in civil service. Second, these visits help youth understand the diversity of “players” in Michigan’s political system and how vastly those players are impacted by policy decisions. As a bonus, the visits offer issue groups insight on the mock legislation they are drafting, making their arguments more informed with current information.

Leadership development in the context of service and civic engagement cultivates life skills including goal setting, problem-solving, decision-making, written communication and public speaking skills, as well as skills in persuading and motivating peers and adults. Leadership experiences can also foster mutual respect, self-awareness, responsibility, tactfulness, goal setting, facilitation and reflection. Further, civically engaged youth are more likely to register to vote, write to a public official and investigate compelling political issues. 4-H Capitol Experience is Michigan 4-H’s premier youth civic engagement program, and was the 2015 winner of the Michigan Council of Extension Associations John Hannah Award for Program Excellence.

Young people can have great influences on public policy in formal and informal ways. In the 2016 presidential election, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CRICLE) found that roughly 23.7 million young people aged 18-29 voted; an estimated youth turnout rate of 50 percent. In Michigan specifically, CIRCLE reported that young voters made up 21 percent of all the votes in the entire state. 4-H Capitol Experience aims to empower high school youth to engage in the state policy process. The program features practice ballots, letter writing to elected officials and exposure to avenues where high school youth can engage in policy to promote their commitment to civic engagement long term.

For more information on 4-H Capitol Experience, please visit the 4-H Capitol Experience page on the Michigan State University Extension website. Online registration for the 2017 4-H Capitol Experience is open until Feb. 10, 2017, and takes place March 19-22 in Okemos and downtown Lansing.

Any questions on this program can be directed to Makena Schultz at schul430@anr.msu.edu or 517-432-7603.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global/cultural programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H positively impacted individuals and communities in 2015, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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