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Kansas 4-H adapts Citizenship in Action to online format

Pat Melgares
Kansas State Research and Extension

Youth from across Kansas will be encouraged to share their views about the country’s political system and policing issues during the annual Citizenship in Action event hosted by Kansas 4-H. 

The event is normally held at the Kansas Capitol in Topeka each year, with several hundred teenagers attending, but with ongoing restrictions for mass gatherings, Citizenship in Action will be held online only this year. The event is scheduled for Feb. 14-15. 

“Youth do not need to be a member of a 4-H club to participate in Citizenship in Action,” said Beth Hinshaw, one of the event’s organizers and a youth development specialist in southeast Kansas. 

Citizenship in Action is for youths ages 13-18 as of Jan. 1. Online registration is required by Feb. 1, and the cost to participate is $35, which includes a Citizenship in Action T-shirt. Adult volunteers can register for free, unless they want a T-shirt. 

“Last year, we shifted from a debate format – which is a win or lose-centered model – to one of dialogue and deliberation in which we support different truths and claims, and take into consideration everyone’s point of view,” said Aliah Mestrovich Seay, a Kansas 4-H youth development specialist for community vitality.

The Kansas 4-H Youth Council selected the topics for Citizenship in Action based on a list of items on the National Issues Forum. 

“Our youth voted and decided that they want to talk more about what we as a society would have to give up to get the political system that would benefit all of us,” Mestrovich Seay said. “This is always discussed on a spectrum, understanding that there are many options available. They deliberate and weigh those options. 

“On the second topic, policing, the discussion will be around what we should do to ensure justice and fair treatment in our communities.” 

Mestrovich Seay is one of the leaders in the Kansas 4-H program series, Community Conversations, in which youth are trained to facilitate discussions in their communities around hard-to-address topics. Some of those youth will help to lead the discussions during Citizenship in Action. 

“As we’re talking and deliberating on societal issues that matter, we actually agree to disagree and find a way to come to a consensus for the common good,” Mestrovich Seay said. 

Those discussions will highlight the Feb. 14 portion of Citizenship in Action. On Feb. 15, Hinshaw said youth will hear from several speakers – including state legislators and 4-H alumni who are making a positive impact in their community. 

“Part of our charge when we leave on Monday is to have everybody thinking how they, too, can make a positive difference in their community,” Hinshaw said. 

“We know that leadership happens at all levels and this is a good opportunity to focus on that,” she added.

Hinshaw urges youths and families to learn more about Citizenship in Action by contacting their local 4-H club leader, or their local K-State Research and Extension agent.