Photo: Tava Guillory (Credit: Ryan Morse).
Youth in Governance this spring had to adapt to COVID-19 like many other programs have, by transferring online. Though this caused some problems, it also made it so I was able to participate in the program. Like many other years, Youth in Governance gave students opportunities to speak with members of the state legislature, and I introduced some of the basic ideas behind government. Youth In Governance can be used as a very effective tool to give students perspective into the working of our state government.
Firstly, Youth In Governance can be used effectively to help educate students on the issues our state government concerns itself with. Through my experience with the program, I saw many basic ideas of government as major centers of conversation. In one meeting, we discussed the distinctions or resolutions and bills. We also talked through the legislative process, and how a bill becomes a law. These ideas are covered in government classes, and are very important background information in order to understand how our state government functions. While this program covers the basic background information in government, it also took this a step further in appling some of these concepts on the Alaska Legislature website and in our conversation with Senators and Representatives.
The other major purpose this program can serve is how it can connect students with members of their government. Firstly, one of the priorities in the first weeks of the program was to identify each of our respective Senators, Representatives, and City assembly members. Even just this very first step felt very important to introduce the state legislature to many of the students in the group. The identification of our respective legislators could lead to further participation and more conversations between students and their representatives on what they care about.
This part of the program was also built into our meetings by actually scheduling time with the legislators. We met with four different members of the state legislature: including Senator Kawasaki, Representative Zulkosky, Senator Myers, and Senator Wilson. Over the first couple of meetings we had good length conversations with each of these people. These conversations served as both educational and allowed us to ask questions of the legislators. This skill is definitely one I really value. I think it is very important to give students experience communicating and asking questions of Representatives and Senators. This section of the program also helped to build relationships with some of the legislators we talked with. If need be, I would feel comfortable reaching out to one of these people to do another meeting more specifically on climate action. I hope that some of the other students in the program were able to gain that from the experience as well.
Youth in Governance spanned over six weeks, giving us a large amount of time to explore the content we were covering. The weekly meetings were only approximately an hour, which did limit our time as a group to work together. In the second meeting, we jumped right into meeting with legislators. For the duration of those meetings we would work on different activities and ask the legislators questions. After this, we moved into work in smaller groups. We spent a day exploring the Alaska State Legislature website, which I found to be a helpful tool to review. We talked that meeting about the priorities we had in our own individual communities and how that related to the state. We split off into breakout rooms and research in those groups. I was partnered with two girls from Kodiak, who brought food security and the Alaska Marine Highway into the conversation. I found the conversation with people from outside South East about the Alaska Marine Highway to be particularly interesting. We ended up doing some research on hunting permits and subsistence use, which I also found interesting. After that, we began to draft mock resolutions, which took us to the final day of meetings. In that meeting we were able to share a little bit more about what we do and what we cared about. I brought in my experience in climate action in this section of the program, talking about our recent meeting with Senator Murkowski.
During this experience, I personally gained most from the meetings. Specifically, I found that Senator Kawasaki and Representative Zulkosky brought a really interesting perspective to the group. In the first meeting I was able to attend, we met with Representative Zulkosky. She represented Bethel and had in the past done work in health services. She also is the only Alaska Native woman in the entire Alaska State House of Representatives. Though our time with her was limited, she talked about her work in the legislature on supporting Alaska Native women and on supporting health services for small towns. From the work that she mentioned, she seemed to be a very valuable person to have in the legislature. The issues she spoke of felt very important, and she left a very good impression on me. I think she was one of my favorite guests.
We also had a very beneficial meeting with Senator Kawasaki. He had switched from the House to the Senate in a recent election and had an interesting perspective on how the bodies worked differently. He mentioned that he missed the energy of the House of Representatives. In the House people were more progressive, had more outstanding ideas, and moved with more urgency because of the shorter terms. In the Senate, he missed that energy and progressivism. He said the Senate was more relaxing, even sometimes boring. Like Representative he was also from far outside my bubble of Southeast, representing part of Fairbanks. This brought more of both the northern Alaska and the city perspective to our conversation. Chief of Staff Joe Hayes also attended the meeting and participated in our activity about the legislative process.
I enjoyed the new people we got to meet with and learning about the different experiences of the students from the interior. I am glad I participated in the program, and would recommend it for students who enjoy learning about government and meeting new people.
Left to right: SCS Tongass Community Organizer Heather Bauscher, Pacific High Student and 4-Her Madeline Turner, Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins, PHS student and 4-Her David Bean, and Community Sustainability Organizer, 4-H and Community Claire Sanchez.
This week, two Sitka High students are currently in Juneau participating in the 12th Youth in Governance Program. Youth in Governance is a unique 4-H program that offers teens from across Alaska opportunities to gain a better understanding of the legislative process and feel empowered to use their voices to build a better future. To get a better idea on how the Youth in Governance program works and how it inspires strong future leaders in Alaska, we talked with Claire Sanchez, who worked recently with SCS helping guide Sitka’s 4-H program and was a chaperone for Youth in Governance last year.
First tell us a little bit about yourself, how long were you involved in 4-H?
I started out by volunteering with Julia Tawney to lead a 4-H afterschool program in the fall of 2016. The following year I joined the 4-H staff, employed by SCS and UAF, and worked with 4-H for two years.
Tell us about 4-H’s Youth in Governance program and how students get involved with it?
Youth in Governance is a program that brings 4-Hers in high school from all over Alaska to the State Capitol.
Last year, two students from Pacific High School were really excited about Youth in Governance and joined 4-H specifically to participate in the program. They came to me because 4-H had partnered with Pacific High previously, and I proposed this program to the Principal. I told students at Pacific High about this opportunity and that they could sign up through 4-H. Pacific High had the funds to cover the cost and even gave students school credit for participating.
Students can have a range of experience—some know nothing about governmental processes before they begin and that’s okay. They have two Skype sessions from Marla Lowder in Fairbanks to learn about the process. Before they go, the 4-Hers are given homework to learn how bills are made and create their own bill that supports something they care about. During the second Skype session they discuss that bill and they go over the itinerary for the week in Juneau. Students are paired into groups of three, and these groups make appointments with different representatives and senators from all over Alaska. Heather Bauscher, the Tongass Community Organizer at SCS, worked with the students here in Sitka and was a great help in teaching them about this process, empowering them to use their voice in this process, and helping them prepare for the upcoming trip.
Pacific High student Madeline Turner with staff at the Alaska State Capitol.
What happens at Youth in Governance during the trip to the Capitol?
During the week in Juneau, the students scheduled times for meetings during three days out of the week, starting on Monday. At the Capitol, we went on a tour with staff and walked through the process of how a bill works. 4-Hers did a mock testimonial for the draft bills they wrote. We were able to sit in on any sessions we wanted to hear, and they also had a scavenger hunt where they could look at building structure and history of the Capitol.
4-Hers also got to be pages for a day—writing notes during meetings and sessions, and walked those around and delivered them. This all happened during the 9 to 5 day, with 4-Hers getting free time at night.
The biggest part was the meetings with senators and representatives. Students came to their representatives with their draft bill, one that would focus on what they wanted to see implemented locally or state-wide.
The two Sitka students were in the same group. I was a chaperone for one of the Sitka students, Maddie. She got to meet with Representative Johnathan Kreiss-Tompkins. Overall, they met with a total of 20 total senators and representatives from all over the state. One of the cool opportunities of this program was that it could connect us with people across Alaska.
A draft of the House Resolution for circulation of the Elizabeth Peratrovich coin.
What were some of the draft bills 4-Hers focused on?
Jan Hansen, one of our chaperones, proposed to draft a bill about the Elizabeth Peratrovich coin. Students researched and agreed that was something they would want to talk about with senators and representatives. Most of the students, at least in the group I was chaperoning, ended up focusing more on that bill than a local onel. They talked about the coin and proposed a variety of ideas like putting it into circulation to increase knowledge of her importance.
The mint is usually just a collector's item, so they asked if it could be put into circulation. A group of students led by Maddie from Sitka came to Representative Kriess-Thompkins, who said it could be made into a resolution! Then he and Representative Andi Story (from Juneau) co-sponsored the resolution. It's a similar process to making a bill: you propose it, draft it, and then it goes through the House and Senate if enough votes. I think from there it went to the federal level, because it's a US coin. The students led the initiation and invitation to start the process, and Kreiss-Tompkins and the other representatives signed on and created the resolution after hearing from students. Maddie from Sitka was the leader of this group that initially talked to JKT.
How does the program help students learn about legislative process and empower them to get involved?
4-H is all about experiential learning — these students learned how laws or policies affect us as citizens and how to write their own bills. Then they make appointments with representatives by themselves,go to the Capitol, meet face to face, learn how legislation is created and passed, and become empowered by how they have power and a role in this process. These experiences are a way of cognitively learning, but also physically being present.
It was also really great for the students to see members of the Sitka community respond so positively to what they did at Youth in Governance. Paulette Moreno, the Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand President, was really excited to see these students out advocating to get the Elizabeth Peratrovich coin out in circulation. She expressed gratitude to them for doing this work, and it was great for them to know she was really excited and that their work is part of a larger mission and movement.
This program can be a stepping stone to how they get involved in the political process. It really opens doors—there’s a student who now works in the capital and others have gotten internships thanks to their Youth in Governance experience. This program helps cultivate confidence in teens to use their voice so they navigate the political process in the future, as constituents or future leaders.
For more information and to learn more about getting involved in 4-H and Youth in Governance, contact our 4-H Team at [email protected]