MANHATTAN, Kan. – For most of her 15 years growing up, high school freshman Jacklyn Hernandez believed that even the thought of going to college was pretty scary.
No one in her family had ever attended college. Until beginning public school, she spoke only Spanish at home, and needed English as a Second Language programs to simply help her learn the basic concepts of her early education.
Yet, that was all the opportunity she needed.
“Me and some other kids needed those ESL programs when we were younger so we could get the help we needed to be at the same level as other kids,” Hernandez remembers.
Hernandez was one of four Kansas youth recently selected from more than 100 applicants to attend The Equity Institute in Washington, D.C., a three-day trip sponsored by the National 4-H Council to help kids explore what equity means to them and how they can bring their ideas back to their communities.
She’s also president of the Riley County Verde Clovers 4-H Club, which will build a program to increase diversity in the club based on some of the ideas that Hernandez and vice president Kassandra Moreno learned during The Equity Institute.
“Equity versus equality…well, equality is giving everyone the same thing,” said Kansas State University junior Lauren Lauffer, who is helping to mentor Hernandez and Moreno as part of a partnership between the Verde Clovers and the university’s First Scholars program.
“Equity is changing what you give people to help them be successful. So, for example, you wouldn’t give a disabled person and a non-disabled girl the same bike, because they are not going to be able to ride it the same way. Instead, you’d give them what they need to be successful. That would be equity.”
Hernandez said she needed a little extra help learning the English language while Moreno, who was born in the United States, said that her family’s success depended on being able to make a simple living.
“In my application (for The Equity Institute), I talked about how my family lived in Mexico and how different it is in the United States,” Moreno said. “People in the United States have more opportunities and more jobs they can do, unlike in Mexico. For my family, it changed our lives by being able to come here.”
Moreno is now helping other youth to take advantage of opportunities to prepare for college or a future job. She and Hernandez are leading the Verde Clovers’ effort to include kids from more backgrounds in their club, with a longer look at how these youth can come together to benefit Manhattan and surrounding communities.
“One of the ways we thought we could make our club more diverse is by talking to the different clubs that we have (at Manhattan High School),” Moreno said. “We have a German Club, French Club…we are talking to all of those clubs so that we can get more people to want to come to our club.”
The Verde Clovers 4-H Club has about 50 regular club members, most of Hispanic backgrounds, but sometimes nearly double that number at club activities involving extended families and friends.
The club’s effort to increase its diversity spawned from a grant, 4-H Youth Futures: College Within Reach, provided in 2018 by the National 4-H Council. The club has worked closely with the Boys and Girls Club of Riley County, K-State’s First Scholars program, and K-State Research and Extension.
“4-H youth development is all about developing those life skills to be able to transition successfully into adulthood,” said Aliah Mestrovich Seay, Kansas 4-H specialist for culture and communication skills development. “With this particular population of youth, we wanted to be able to pair them with somebody who understood their experience and was also a first generation college student themselves.”
That has made a big difference for Hernandez.
“There are some people who go home every day and their parents will ask them what they want to do in life. It’s a typical topic they talk about,” she said. “In my family, we don’t talk about those things because neither of my parents went to college. So I never got those opportunities that a lot of other people get until I joined 4-H, and we started talking more about college and getting scholarships to pay for it.”
Learn more about the Verde Clovers 4-H Club on its Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/verdeclovers. For information about any of the state’s 4-H programs, call the Kansas 4-H office at 785-532-5800.