By Cara L. Dempski
GLENWOOD CITY — There are not many high school seniors who would think a week of leadership, civics and learning sessions, doing volunteer work, and seeing a Presidential Inauguration would be cool.
Glenwood City High School senior Catherine Schurtz begs to differ.
The 17-year-old spent January 17 through 21 in Washington, D.C., as part of a 4-H program called Citizenship Washington Focus – Presidential Inauguration (CWF-PI). Schurtz and 30 other Wisconsin 4-H participants aged 14 to 18 traveled to our nation’s capital with approximately 500 other 4-H members from around the country who were selected for the experience.
Participants were housed at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, for the duration of the program, and attended workshops and education sessions on government. These included information on the government’s role, political primaries and conventions, how the media plays a role in government, and the role of citizens.
The young 4-H members also engaged in a service learning project, had time to visit the Smithsonian Museums and the “Newseum,” were able to see Washington, D.C., at night, and held voter registration and mock elections.
The group attended the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump on January 20 and then had some free time before going for an inauguration dinner dance and party on the Potomac River.
Schurtz said in the days leading to her departure, she was most excited to witness the inauguration.
“I was excited to see how many people were going to be attending,” she explained. “This was also a huge moment in history, regardless of who got into office.”
The Glenwood City student expressed she was happy to have the opportunity to participate in the experience in Washington, and recommends it to any 4-H participant who may be interested in learning more about government and how to be a more active participant.
The application process
Schurtz explained she found out about the trip from her extension agent at the UW – Extension office in Baldwin. The programming she participated in during her week in Washington is typically referred to in 4-H as an “experience.”
“We call them experiences because we are not on these trips to relax and have fun, we are there to learn and have fun,” Schurtz clarified.
The application process for the experiences starts in October each year with a Member Evaluation form. Club members check boxes on the form for which experiences look the most interesting and beneficial. Members also list the various ways they participate in 4-H throughout each year and how they have participated since first joining the club, along with community service participation and school participation.
The form is then submitted to the St. Croix County Leaders Association, and applicants are interviewed a few weeks later. The interview process can be very intense, and there are only a few seats available for each experience. Depending on the experience some applicants even go on to interview at the state level.
The selection criteria for experiences include: being an active member, in good standing, of a St. Croix County 4-H Club; level of participation in your club; and how well you handle yourself during your personal interview.
If an applicant is selected, they receive a letter of congratulations in the mail. A few weeks after the congratulatory letter, a second letter detailing necessary information about the experience, including cost, is sent out. The average cost for a trip like CWF-PI is $1200.
Schurtz indicated that her trip was partially funded by the Wisconsin 4-H Foundation and the St. Croix County 4-H Leaders Association through grants.
The remainder of the funds for the trip came from Schurtz’s family and her job as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Glenhaven.
“My family gave me money instead of presents for Christmas, so I would have spending money and have part of the experience paid for,” she explained. “I used my own money for the souvenir aspect of the experience.”
Schurtz said there are many experiences open to 4-H members. Among them are National 4-H summits (for Ag Science, Healthy Living and STEM), National 4-H Conference and Dairy Conference. There is also an American Spirit Experience available to 4-H members.
Part of the preparation for the experience involved answering three “brain buster” questions. The questions are designed to make students think about the impact the president can have on national policy.
The first question asked participants how a presidents beliefs on various issues (education, jobs, agriculture, health care) might impact families in Wisconsin. Schurtz answered a lack of support for agriculture would significantly impact Wisconsin’s economy and ability to provide food. The second question asked what each participant would address if he or she was elected president; Schurtz chose health care, stating she would like to see health insurance reform, take health care decisions out of the hands of large pharmaceutical companies and put back in the hands of the physicians.
Finally, participants were asked about the qualities of great leaders. The Glenwood student explained good leaders should know how to react and respond appropriately in any situation, especially when communicating a message to others.
Schurtz boarded a plane at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on January 17 and arrived in Washington, D.C. in time to check in for the experience before registration closed at 5 p.m. She attended dinner and listened to a keynote speech and welcome from National 4-H Council staff. After learning about the government’s role, the experience participants went to a pin-trade social, met as a delegation for a few minutes, and went to bed.
January 18 opened with breakfast at the Center and a trip to the Newseum. It was Schurtz’s favorite part of the trip.
“I wanted to learn more about how the media influenced the presidency,” she said. “We definitely learned about the media aspect of the inauguration. Going to the Newseum really helped all of us understand the effect the media had.”
The Newseum is a museum whose main focus is on the media coverage surrounding major historical events. Schurtz loved the floor that focused on the pop culture era. She was excited to see guitars from Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, and clothing worn at concerts by various artists.
The high school senior also got to see some of the letters Hendrix wrote to his family while he was at Woodstock in 1969.
“That was very cool to me because I had just gotten done writing a paper on Woodstock for my College Prep English class,” Schurtz said.
After the Newseum, the entire delegation returned to the 4-H center for more learning sessions and a primary and party convention for the mock election. The group also learned more about the media’s role from speakers Anita McBride, Tim McBride and Ellen Moran. After dinner, the experience participants had from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. to experience Washington, D.C. at night before returning to their rooms for the 11 p.m. curfew.
Thursday, January 19 focused on service and a citizen’s role in the community and world. Experience attendees participated in a service learning project before eating lunch and heading to the Smithsonian Museums for the afternoon. After dinner, town hall meetings were held and the polls opened for the election before the 4-H members learned more about the president’s role. The delegations met for 30 minutes to talk about the inauguration the following day and then went to bed.
Inauguration day dawned with breakfast starting at 6 a.m. The rest of the day was spent witnessing the Oath of Office, Presidential Inaugural Address, eating lunch at the Smithsonian and watching the Inaugural Parade.
“This is what I was most excited for (the inauguration)”, Schurtz said. “I got to be part of history instead of just reading about it.”
Participants then returned to the 4-H Center for some free time and to prepare for that night’s dinner dance and cruise on the Potomac River. During their cruise the attendees found out who their new “president” was.
The following morning, delegates ate breakfast and said their goodbyes to their fellow 4-H members before boarding planes to return home.
Schurtz said she enjoyed the experience as a whole, though she was not fond of the rush everyone was in the entire time she was there. There also was not much time to explore the city because of the massive number of people present for the inauguration.
Still, she said she would definitely recommend the experience to other 4-H members.
“This really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that not many people get the opportunity to attend,” she stated. “I had so much fun, made so many new friends from across the nation, and learned so much about our executive branch. This was an experience that made learning fun by doing it.” Which is a poignant statement as “Learning by Doing” is the National 4-H slogan.
Schurtz plans to bring the knowledge gained on her trip to the table in her Civics class and history courses. She said the things she learned on the trip can be used throughout her life, and not just in school. And when on to explaine that the entire experience taught everyone attending life skills that will be necessary in their future lives.
And it was not just the educational sessions that helped everyone learn.
“The sight-seeing trip helped bring to life what we have learned in school about other presidents, and history, as did the inauguration,” Schurtz said.
Schurtz and her family encourage others to join 4-H, this is just a little of what you can do and learn as a member.
If you are interested in joining 4-H or would like to learn more about the program contact the St. Croix County Extension Office at 715-531-1932 or visit http://stcroix.uwex.edu/4-h-youth-development to find a club near you.