4-H Capitol Experience: Engaging youth in democracy now, so they stay engaged in the future

4-H Capitol Experience allows youth to interact with state Senators and Representatives, learning from relevant community stakeholder groups and lobbyists and other activities designed as a way to see state government in action.

Every year, anywhere from 60 to 100 high school youth between the ages of 14 and 19 meet in Lansing for 4-H Capitol Experience. Capitol Experience is a 4-day event that offers opportunities for youth to learn about civic engagement and public policy. The conference allows Michigan youth to see their state government in action and discover ways that they can influence policy issues. Every participant works with a specific issue group, ranging from agriculture and environment to police and human services. These issue groups are based off the current state legislative committees, and serve as the teams for youth to work in for the entirety of the conference.

Collaboratively, issue group individuals write a bill to address a relevant current issue. Groups then interact with legislators, state agency staff, lobbyists and other resource people to learn how policy is made and get feedback on their mock bill. According to Michigan State University Extension youth will experience every stage of the legislative process during their 4-day experience. After writing their bill, they have the opportunity to include feedback from their community visits through a mock committee meeting. They are later divided into a Senate and a House of Representatives, and it is here that they present their final bill to their peers. After some time for lobbying, the time comes to vote on the bills. If an issue group's bill is passed through both the House and Senate, it has the potential to be signed by our mock Governor, Barb Byrum, Ingham County Clerk. This year, youth will also have the opportunity to lobby County Clerk Byrum for their bills before she arrives for the signing ceremony.

This year, 4-H Capitol Experience is being presented in part by Michigan Farm Bureau. In addition to their event sponsorship, local county Farm Bureau offices may have allocated additional scholarship funds for youth to attend. 4-H Capitol Experience is open to all high school aged youth regardless of their 4-H or Farm Bureau affiliation; however, non 4-H or Farm Bureau members are asked to pay an additional fee. MSU Extension is excited about this partnership and appreciates the Michigan Farm Bureau's recognition of Capitol Experience as a premier youth governance program. 4-H Capitol Experience is not affiliated with any political organizations or parties, and encourages youth to consider all current state issues/potential solutions from every perspective.  

By participating, youth will gain understanding of the responsibilities of being a citizen, explore various aspects of different statewide issues, interact with diverse community stakeholders,and try-on what it would be like to have a career in public policy. After participating in the 2014 4-H Capitol Experience, 100 percent of participants agreed or strongly agreed that they "can stand up for things that are important to them", and 97 percent felt that "teens and adults working together can influence state government policies". Each year, before and after the event, participants are asked if they feel they, as individual teens, could influence state government policy and policy makers. Last year, there was a 33 percent increase in youth who agreed or strongly agreed with the question after participating in 4-H Capitol Experience.

This year's 4-H Capitol Experience will be held March 22-25 in Lansing. Registration is open until Feb. 16 and can be completed online. There may be scholarships available locally via county 4-H offices or Farm Bureau offices. For additional details on the conference, visit the 4-H Capitol Experience website or contact conference coordinator, Makena Schultz, at schul430@anr.msu.edu. To follow this event as it unfolds look for #4HCapExp2015 or like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/4hcapitolexperience.

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