True Leaders at the N.H. Statehouse
On a Wednesday afternoon at the New Hampshire Statehouse, 4-H youth are working on creating a vision for the future of driver education. In a committee room in the Legislative Office Building, some 50 Granite State 4-H’ers are debating the merits of a bill that would create state-funded online driver education programs.
At the front of the room, five members of the 4-H State Youth Leadership Team act as legislators moderating the discussion. They ask questions and solicit testimony from other youth in the audience. The discussion is wide-ranging and civil, with comments on the merits of online instruction versus classroom experiences, how the bill would impact driver education businesses, whether the measure would increase access to education for rural students and more.
“Youth go to driver’s ed so that they’re safe on the road, and we don’t know if they’re getting as much of a comprehensive education through an online program,” one 4-H’er tells the committee.
The bill isn’t real, but the dialogue — and the lessons learned — is. More than 100 youth gathered at the Statehouse on April 29 for 4-H Citizenship Day. Now in its second year, the event brings 4-H’ers to Concord for a tour of the state capitol, lunch with their local legislators and hands-on experience with civic engagement.
As part of that experience, 4-H’ers shepherded two mock bills through the legislative process, complete with committee meetings and, finally, a simulated vote on the floor of the N.H. House of Representatives.
“I learned a lot about the legislative process,” says Skye Robicheau, a Sullivan County 4-H’er. “The committee hearing was all about learning what the people want versus what legislators want. And now that I know anyone can give testimony to a committee, I might give some myself.”
Belknap County 4-H’er Daisy Burns acted as chairperson for the mock hearing on the driver education bill. What impressed her most about the hearing? That participants kept the dialogue civil and interesting. Youth saw the effect of civil civic engagement in action during the mock hearing on the driver education bill. One youth initially offered testimony against the bill, but, after asking and answering some questions from the committee and the audience, reversed her position.
“People had very good points, and they did a great job of explaining their concerns,” she says.
In the afternoon, youth had lunch with state senators and representatives from their respective counties. The discussion was lively, with youth and legislators alike asking and answering each other’s questions.
“My hope is that today will be a glimmer of what’s ahead for these young people, who are the leaders of the future,” says Kate Guerdat, associate state 4-H leader for UNH Cooperative Extension. “I hope they’ll take hold of an issue they see a need to speak out on and bring it back to their communities and help make change in the world.”
"Now that I know anyone can give testimony to a committee, I might give some myself."
After lunch, 4-H’ers met on the House floor to vote on the bills they debated earlier that day. House Clark Paul Smith moderated the vote and explained the importance of civil dialogue and civic engagement.
Swanzey Rep. Joe McConnell spent the day with 4-H youth and offered his perspective as a veteran legislator. McConnell was impressed with how youth conducted themselves in the committee debates and voting, and he says he was glad to see youth learn about how easy it is to be civically engaged in New Hampshire.
“The opportunity for citizens in this state to enjoy interactions with their legislators I unrivaled,” he says. “The sooner you get involved in your government, the better.”