4-H Capitol Experience: Using Michigan’s capitol as a learning laboratory

Each year Lansing is host to a 4-H event that teaches youth how to be involved in their state government.

Michigan 4-H has turned its state capitol into a learning laboratory for young people aged 14 and up for an event called 4-H Capitol Experience.  The 4-H Capitol Experience impact summary states that youth will:

  • Discover how to be actively involved in influencing policy decisions.
  • Explore different aspects of a policy issue that may affect individuals and communities.
  • Learn about the policy process at the state level.
  • Increase youths’ communication, team work, citizenship and leadership skills.
  • Foster participants’ ability to meet new people and make new friends from different places and backgrounds.
  • Develop and expand career and personal interests.
  • Develop social and academic skills needed for a successful transition to college and life as an adult.

The event is planned each year by a committee of selected youth who are past Capitol Experience attendees and Michigan State University Extension staff.  The group selects 6-7 “hot topics” that are currently being legislated. At the time of registration, Capital Experience participants choose a “hot topic” to be the focus of their experience during the program.  A group of participants is then formed around each topic where they learn to compose a bill and meet with lobbyists, state agency staff and other state level experts around this topic.  Throughout these meetings youth discover how policy is made.  Youth also meet with legislators, tour Michigan’s Capitol and explore various careers in public policy.

The impact summary also lists the outcomes of 2013 4-H Capitol Experience through pre- and post-event evaluations.  The number in parenthesis is the percentage of respondents who agreed, or strongly agreed, with the statement before the event and the last percentage figure is post-event agreed, or strongly agreed, responses.

  • I can think critically about public policy issues and suggest ways for improvement—(41 percent) 87 percent
  • I know who to contact to get things done—(35 percent) 90 percent
  • I am open to different points of view—(55 percent) 88 percent
  • I feel an individual teen can influence state government policy and policy makers—(56 percent) 91 percent
  • I feel teens and adults working together can influence state government policies—(62 percent) 90 percent

4-H Capitol Experience is one of the leadership and civic engagement programs that provides youth the opportunity to learn how they can have a voice in government.  Based on their Capitol Experience activities, participants plan a post experience activity to complete once they get back in their home counties.  In the words of one past Capitol Experience participant, “It has helped me realize that my voice and contribution of ideas are valid regardless of my age and that I can make a difference.”

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