Wise County 4-Her helps create new Virginia law, leaves legacy of equity for Virginia 4-H
The bill that Harper Miller, a sophomore at Central High School, helped with puts 4-H on equal footing with sports and other school programs.
When Harper Miller heard that not all 4-H youth are excused from school to participate in its renowned educational programs and activities, she knew she needed to act.
Harper, a sophomore at Central High School in Wise County, Virginia, had never experienced this herself, though. School administrators in her county — from teachers to principals — had always placed a high value on 4-H programming.
At 4-H State Congress in 2021, Harper learned that many of her peers from other schools weren’t able to get excused absences for 4-H activities, even though sports and other school programs were afforded that opportunity.
Then she heard a presenter talk about how Tennessee had recently passed a law that changed exactly that.
“With this bill to support Virginia 4-H, I wouldn’t only be serving myself, I would be serving the entire commonwealth,” Miller said. “Knowing the impact that this bill would have on youth motived me to pursue it.”
In September, Miller reached out to both of her state representatives — Del. Terry Kilgore and Sen. Todd Pillion — and presented the idea. Both Kilgore and Pillion supported her through the process with HB 246 in the House of Delegates and SB 596 in the Virginia Senate. They used the Tennessee law as the basis for the Virginia bill, which allows for excused absences for students who participate in 4-H educational programs and activities
“This is a completely bipartisan bill,” Miller said. “People of all political parties can support this because it supports youth education.”
On April 1, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a bill into law, the result of hard work and dedication of one of 4-H’s own.
“Everything moved quickly. But when Gov. Youngkin signed the bill into law, it was one of the proudest moments of my life,” Miller said. “It was a surreal moment that wouldn’t have happened with the support I had from everyone along the way.”
That support included Miller’s parents, who were always there to help, her friends, and most of all, LeAnn Hill, Miller’s local Virginia Cooperative Extension agent, who was integral to her success and to advancing her wellbeing. 4-H camp and the 4-H Educational Center have played an important role in educating Miller.
“This truly wouldn’t have happened without the support of everyone. I am incredibly blessed and thankful to have such a support system,” Miller said.
Without 4-H, Miller wouldn’t have had the confidence or the opportunity to pursue a bill. In fifth grade, she joined 4-H when an Extension agent visited her school. Immediately hooked, she excitedly attended 4-H camp in Abingdon, Virginia. She found herself in the three activities she chose at camp: cooking, challenge in the woods, and archery.
“They were diverse choices for a fifth grader, but I enjoyed each activity. It showed me all the various opportunities in 4-H and set me up down the path to where I am today,” Miller said.
That path isn’t ending with HB 246 and SB 596 being signed into law. Miller is passionate about helping others and is focused on service to her community, embodying Virginia 4-H’s emphasis on civic engagement.
In her other 4-H projects, Miller partnered with a local nursing home and a project called Lunch Box 276, which gives students in her area – the area code 276 – packaged food on weekends or over break.
Miller doesn’t want 4-Hers to be afraid of goals or projects large or small, she said.
“If you have a big goal, take it on headfirst,” Miller said. “Work toward your goals now because one day you may not have that opportunity. 4-H helped give me the confidence to pursue something like this. We got a bill signed into law.”
Miller, along with Virginia 4-H, will have a lasting impact on Virginia's youth and their communities.