Doing the “Heart” Work

A woman stands behind two smiling children with her hands on their shoulders.
State Rep. Lataisha Jackson

Teens discover “Keys to Community”

Introduce an adolescent to the local sheriff, tax assessor, and county clerk, and that young person may run for elected office someday. At least, that’s what one northwest Mississippi state representative is hoping.

Rep. Lataisha Jackson serves Mississippi District 11, including Panola and Tate Counties, and she coordinates learning opportunities for young people as the executive director of E.D.U.C.A.T.E. Inc. She shares interactive, real-world lessons with children, adolescents, and teens.

“Leadership is a key component of our After-School Matters program, and we are always looking for ways to increase and enhance students’ leadership through recreational and literacy opportunities,” Jackson explains. “When Mr. Sumner Davis talked about the Keys to Community curriculum, he emphasized that we could collaborate with the Mississippi State University Extension Service to increase students’ understanding of the importance of local, county leadership.”

Davis heads Extension’s Center for Government and Community Development, which delivers the program developed by Extension instructors Jason Camp, Patrick Miller, and Terence Norwood.

“Keys to Community is a readymade curriculum that’s making all the difference in young people’s understanding of local government, and it can give kids insight into how leadership can change the county,” Jackson says. “Extension is sharing this curriculum throughout the state.

“It gives a true sense of what we do as elected officials,” she adds.

Camp, Miller, and Norwood developed a flexible, interactive curriculum to teach young people about county government. The program is based on County Government in Mississippi, an online book published by Extension that outlines the roles and responsibilities of county officials.

“Sumner asked us to take this book and develop it into a youth program for agents or volunteers to teach,” Miller says. “Your county supervisor, your sheriff, your tax collector—kids need to know what the office is, what they do, and how it works, day by day.

“We want kids to engage with the public official and simultaneously learn from that public official,” he continues. “The engagement part of the curriculum is what makes it successful. The kids need to be out there interacting with their public officials.”

Volunteering to bring the curriculum to her community, Jackson partnered with Shanita Smith Mosely, a North Panola High School teacher, to incorporate Keys to Community curriculum in E.D.U.C.A.T.E.’s annual 6-week summer camp. Fifty young people participated and held mock elections.

Two of the elected “officials,” 11-yearold Deshawn Dugger from North Panola Junior High and 13-year-old Jamiah McKinney from South Panola Junior High, say they had fun meeting with elected officials, participating in an election, and learning the Keys to Community lessons.

Deshawn won the mock election to become circuit clerk, and Jamiah was elected superintendent of the school system.

“When you’re at home, you’re just sitting there doing nothing, but if you come up to E.D.U.C.A.T.E. and do the Keys to Community, you can learn more about government,” Deshawn says. “When kids get older and are able to vote, they’ll know what they’re voting for and who they’re voting for.”

Jamiah agrees, recommending that Mississippi students participate in Keys to Community if they’re given the opportunity.

“It’s a great way to be able to talk to other teens your age,” she says. “This program makes you able to go to a higher standard than what you’re used to.”

Jackson emphasizes other adults should consider volunteering to bring the curriculum to young people.

“The leadership that kids can learn in Keys to Community gives them limitless opportunities,” she says. “They can become part of change and progression through education. We’ve all been fortunate to be part of this curriculum.” 

Filed Under:
MSU Extension Service
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