Features — 14 March 2013

Students may be boarding planes and packing their cars for a Spring Break getaway, but the K12CONNECT program and the office of regional outreach are clocking in Saturday to ring in the newest program on Murray State University’s campus. The Regional Youth Leadership (RYL) program at MSU welcomes its first cohort of students from the 18-county coverage region with the official kickoff this Saturday at the Curris Center.

The program started with an idea from Hickman County. Leaders and students wanted to combine forces to provide a leadership experience unlike any other in the commonwealth. With more young leaders prepared for the future, western Kentucky will be a player in the future of state and national politics. Gina Winchester, executive director of regional outreach, and Rebecca Feldhaus, coordinator of regional outreach, reached out to community leaders in schools, businesses and nonprofits to help advise the creation of this leadership program. The creative committee sought students in 8th grade from each of the school districts in the 18-county region to participate.

Carmen Garland, former MSU staffer in school relations, scholarships and student affairs, stepped in to lead the effort as RYL coordinator. RYL is a year-long program for 8th-grade students that focuses on improving the community in which the students reside. The program utilizes Project Citizen, a portfolio-based civic education program, as the vehicle for student learning. Project Citizen charges students to identify a problem in their community, gather information about the problem, examine solutions, develop an action plan and propose public policy. It could be the school board, city council or even an audience with legislators in Frankfort — students will take their ideas to the highest authority and make their case for change. Students will gain skills including problem solving, critical thinking, research tactics, leadership and much more.

Throughout the year, students will participate in learning sessions and field trips that will expose them to the facets that make western Kentucky so unique. Then, after hard work and research, the students will come back to Murray State’s campus in the summer of 2014 to show off their project. The winner of the project exhibition is rewarded with prizes and the prestigious title of RYL 2013-14 exhibition champion.

Students and parents will visit campus on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for icebreakers, lunch and an in-depth orientation to the RYL and Project Citizen programs. Kentucky state coordinator for Project Citizen and We the People, Glenn Manns, will lead the detailed discussion of the project requirements at Saturday’s kickoff. After meeting their peers and gaining a stronger understanding of the program’s goals, the students will leave Murray State’s campus with the confidence and vigor to change their surroundings for the better.

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