Juanita Johnson, Woods, Will E, Morgan, Johnny W. | 8/16/2006 1:30:59 AM
News Release Distributed 08/15/06
After participating in a three-day Citizenship Louisiana Focus conference in Baton Rouge, students from across the state returned home filled with community service ideas.
Juanita Johnson, professor in the LSU AgCenter’s Department of 4-H Youth Development and program coordinator for the conference, said the ideas and commitment to civic involvement grew from the program – which is designed to reinforce the youngsters’ dedication to and skills in making their communities better.
The 40 students who participated in the program earlier this month (Aug. 2-4) came from the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H youth development program and the Southern University Ag Center’s Youth Educational Support groups.
"For the past 14 years, 4-H members from across the state have learned about ways to correct local problems through the LSU AgCenter’s Citizenship Louisiana Focus program," Johnson said.
The students compete for the opportunity to come to the state capital to learn about the political process, she said.
"Each of the students who came to Baton Rouge earlier this month (Aug. 2-4) to participate in the program actually began the competition process by writing to one of their state legislators with an idea for a bill," Johnson explained. "From the information they provided, we determined who would be best suited to attend the program."
The students start working on their proposals in the spring, and then those selected make the trip to Baton Rouge each year in August to meet with their fellow Citizenship Louisiana Focus winners from across the state.
"This youth-adult partnership is organized to take action on local issues and will hopefully encourage program participants to engage in other civic and political activities once they return home," Johnson said. "Essentially the program is designed to give students a working knowledge of how a bill is moved from just an idea that someone has to that idea becoming a law."
This year the students returned home with community service ideas to address the issues of underage drinking and driving, along with bullying and violence.
A sample of the programs that are being initiated include the following projects:
–East Carroll Parish youth plan to raise awareness about the issue of underage drinking by distributing information parishwide about the prevalence of alcohol abuse in their parish. They also plan to stress alternatives for after-school activities.
–Youth and adults in St. Helena Parish plan to design a float for an annual parade to promote alcohol prevention.
–In Madison Parish, LeAndrew Love, a 4-H Club member, says his group plans to work with their Engaging Youth, Serving Community group to distribute bullying prevention resources at community events.
–Nelda Bailey and other Madison Parish 4-H’ers and EYSC group members plan to work with parents, 4-H leaders and school teachers to design anti-bullying posters to display throughout the parish. Bailey said she hopes to help her peers understand that bullying, violence and drug abuse harm both the bully and the victim.
The annual Citizenship Louisiana Focus conference brings together a diverse group of youth and adults from across the state who are interested in civic education, according to Johnson.
She said it’s a fast-paced three days, with a specifically designed curriculum revolving around four distinct group activities that are each creatively challenging participants to think critically and participate in debates about current issues and concerns relating to youth problems.
Included in the program are seminars, a mock senate activity, community leadership workshops and current issue reporting through a letter-writing research and development exercise.
But even though the program schedule is tight, the activities are designed to be fun as well as enlightening, Johnson said.
"While we do a lot, it’s not all work," Johnson said, explaining that the schedule also provides the students with fun activities such as skating and touring both the old and the current Louisiana State Capitol buildings.
The highlight of the trip for participants is the time they spend as "Senators for a Day" at the Capitol, according to Johnson, who said the entire program builds up to the finale in the state Senate chamber.
As part of that activity, students write two bills they would like to see become law and then sit in the Senate chamber, debate the pros and cons of the bill and then vote on the proposed "legislation."
This year the two bills were the "Body Abuse" bill, which was an act to prevent the rising percentages of teen pregnancy, and the "Healthy Conditions for Youth" bill, which was an act to correct youth problems related to drugs and peer pressure.
As the students went through the same steps actual state senators take in debating and voting on bills, the Body Abuse bill passed, but the Healthy Conditions proposal failed in the 4-H Youth Legislature.
Each year, a group of LSU AgCenter 4-H agents helps Johnson conduct the program. This year the agents who served as adult leaders this year were Ken Spoto of East Feliciana Parish; Joe Bairnsfather, Concordia; Christina Guillory, Evangeline; Karol Osborne, Madison; and Will Woods, DeSoto.
Woods said Citizenship Louisiana Focus is a good program that helps the 4-H’ers develop leadership and socialization skills as they build relationships with other students from across the state.
"It’s always amazing to watch and identify the leaders," Woods said. "These are the ones who always step up during discussion, and you can see that 4-H has really helped them to grow."
Jasmine Honore, a sophomore animal science major at LSU who served as one of the collegiate 4-H assistants in the program this year, also said she learned a lot about the legislative process by being involved with the program.
"This program really teaches the students how a bill moves through the process on its way to becoming a law, and it gives them a chance to participate in that process," said Honore.
The program was sponsored by the Louisiana 4-H Foundation, the National 4-H Council, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, the Louisiana Office of the Attorney General and the LSU AgCenter.
For additional information on the Citizenship Louisiana Focus program or any of the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H youth development programs, contact a 4-H agent in your parish’s LSU AgCenter Extension Office or visit www.lsuagcenter.com.