June 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA4
Enriching the Future: Extension Youth Program in Summertime Learning
This article introduces Project YES, a collaborative summer intervention program for youth. The history of the program is followed by a description, using the Summer, 1993 incarnation as an example. It describes the multi-dimensional nature of the program, as well as how the program improves through quantitative evaluation. Project YES is presented as an opportunity for Extension to become involved with the current activity and debate in year-round schooling.
Extension administrators and educators are finding new avenues to impact quality of life issue at the edge of the 21st century. The writer, a former 4-H member, Extension agent, and assistant Extension specialist, offers a program that some view as a new "paradigm." This article describes and presents results of an innovative inter-disciplinary community-based summer enrichment program for socially-disadvantaged children. After four years of implementation in rural and urban communities, significant data show summer education, fitness, and health programs conducted with poverty-stricken communities can support learning and self-control.
Certain demographic groups have been associated as at-risk for negative social behavior (Berlin & Sum, 1988). Hyens (1987) has shown that most developmental differences (such as poor health, violent tendencies, academic deficiencies, teenage pregnancies) between these youth at risk and their peers occur during the summer. It can be concluded that development and refinement of summer intervention programs will play a key role in thwarting these negative behavioral influences (Howell, 1988; Zykowski, 1991).
Summer youth programs for rural children lacking guidance and support for social, cultural, and academic development traditionally have been patterned on programs begun in 1915 in Randolph County, West Virginia. These traditional programs fall into three categories: custodial, sports, or task-specific models. As programs of intervention, all three types fall short of accomplishing the goal of guiding "at-risk" youth.
If a summer intervention program is to aid youth-at-risk, the program design must directly address the academic and self- esteem issues (Coopersmith, 1967; Roundtree, 1979; Marsh & Shavelson, 1985; Marsh & Holmes, 1990). Because of the link between physical well-being, academic success, and self-esteem, a successful summer intervention program must include components of physical and health education. The multidisciplinary design, described herein, is the basis of Project YES.
The specific goals of Project YES are:
- To foster a strong community base through involving adult community
members and teen mentors from the neighborhood (Sambol, 1991);
- To provide a multidisciplinary curriculum with expert supervision
- To implement formal evaluation methods in order to focus program
development, especially changes targeted at specific groups of children;
- To ensure long term benefits by providing continuous service after the summer program ends.
Project YES was first implemented in Charleston, WV, in 1990 as an attempt to remedy the developmental problems of "at-risk" youth. The program had 112 participants and 15 teen mentors at two sites. The project was conducted by West Virginia University and the Charleston Housing Authority, with contributions made by county and local government. The first year included only self- esteem and academic components. In its second year, Project YES began in a low-income area of Wheeling, WV, with 160 participants and 15 teen mentors, and for the first time included physical and health education components. The academic component added a computer division. The 1993 program, a repeat of the Wheeling program, added three new program sites in Pittsburgh, PA, Bluefield, WV, and Fairmont, WV.
The program is directed at low income, high crime sectors of towns and cities. This implies that the Project is usually implemented in, or near, public housing. The Summer 1993 program even used vacant apartments in public housing projects to conduct some of the activities. A rehabilitated vacant house and community centers have also served as Project locations.
The program is conducted five days per week, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The current design runs for six weeks in the summer. The participants are grouped by age and divided into groups of around 15 to 20 each. The typical day begins with a nutritious breakfast. The bulk of the day involves sessions of 40 minutes each, with about 10 minutes between sessions to get to the next one. There is a 30-minute break for lunch. The day is planned so that periods of low physical activity are followed by high energy sessions. The curriculum is customized for each age group. For example, the 12-year-olds may learn about word processing on the computers, while the 6-year-olds may be using the computers to develop basic literacy skills like spelling. Ninety percent of the participants at the three sites were African-American. Roughly sixty percent were female, and the average age was ten years old.
The multidisciplinary approach is what makes Project YES unique. There are several disciplines represented, all of which have the possibility to evolve or be refined to meet the group needs
- Academic enrichment - The academic enrichment portion includes
computer programs selected for literacy and math skills. Participants
are taught basic computer skills for one or two sessions, then are shown
how to use the software. Programs are similar to video games, but
success depends on achievement of academic skills (spelling, math,
etc.). Older children are introduced to word processing, desktop
publishing, and illustration programs that they used to produce a camp
- Fitness and health - Each morning begins with stretching and aerobic
exercises. Physical education consists of biking and swimming, which
take place daily and weekly, respectively. Safety education, as pertains
to biking and swimming, accompanies these activities. In addition, dance
instruction is included as another means of improving fitness.
- Self-concept development - The groups participate in a class
specifically targeted toward improving self-esteem. This occurs in a
semi-formal, structured setting. Lesson plans typically address the
children's relationship to family, friends, and others in the community.
- Individual empowerment - Several steps are implemented to help the
youth achieve a feeling of self-control and self- determination. Drug
awareness classes are mandatory. In addition, the older youth are
introduced to a form of career counseling to make it clear that they can
shape their own futures.
- Reflective learning - This is primarily accomplished through
literacy training, but is implemented throughout the program. The
children are not only taught reading skills, but are also informed of
the importance of literacy in their lives.
- Nutrition - The children learn about nutrition through informational
lessons and practical experience in preparing healthy snacks and meals.
Participants learn to read nutritional labels, about the links between
nutrition and disease, the effect of obesity on lifestyle, and other
nutrition related topics.
- Multiculturalism - The participants are given weekly presentations by representatives of other cultures. These may be from visitors from other countries or residents with strong cultural ties to their land of origin. In regular daily sessions, the children are exposed to art, dance, and music of other cultures. Because the program is conducted in neighborhoods with high proportions of African-Americans, most of the cultural lessons stress African and African-derived culture.
The possibility of future summer camps of this type relies upon demonstrating the benefits of the project, and this is best done quantitatively. Professionally accepted tests are chosen to evaluate key aspects of the project, such as self-concept and physical fitness and health. For example, the Physical Best test is used to evaluate participants' fitness. Any tests used are administered before the program begins, possibly at the sign-up or orientation meetings, and at the end of the program, on or near the last day. Staff members and teen mentors are trained to assist in administering the tests. The tests are also administered to a group of children at the control site. Test results can be scored and analyzed after the program ends.
The initial testing has already found some areas of concern that must be addressed as the program evolves. Score declines indicate areas the program needs to address most. Its multidimensional nature allows the program to be tailored to the specific needs of the community.
The session of Project YES described herein detected score declines for African-American girls in areas of social acceptance, behavioral conduct, global self-worth, and two specific physical tests. White girls showed score declines in the same non-physical areas, accompanied by a decline in their assessment of personal appearance. They also experienced a decline in one physical area.
African-American males, on the other hand, did not experience declines in scores of social parameters (such as behavioral conduct, self-worth, and social acceptance), but did show declines in several physical tests. White males also showed declines in several physical tests (fewer than African-American males, however), as well as scholastic competence.
The program director must schedule all activities so conflicts do not occur. There must be contingency plans for uncontrollable situations, such as uncooperative weather. The director must also set up some hierarchy of command for the program. It should be expected that decisions will have to be made without planning, so staff member and mentors must know how much authority they have to make decisions. Finally, the director must hold daily meetings to address problems and clarify short term plans.
Project YES is constantly evolving, as indicated by the evaluation aspect of its description. Some problems for which the summer camp was designed did not show significant improvement. It is clear that curriculum must be changed to address specific areas of concern. Two other changes may help improve program analysis.
First, the short duration of the camp may make relative changes difficult to measure. A longer program, possible only through increased funding, might help, as might long term measurement efforts. Neither of these changes is currently planned, due to funding and implementation difficulties. Second, preliminary analysis shows that the size of the control group plays a very crucial part in assessing project effects. Efforts will be made to ensure that the control group contains large numbers of all subdivisions for which separate analysis is desired. This change is a relatively easy one to effect. The dynamic design feature of Project YES is such that the program can only improve in time.
The collaborative nature of Project YES encourages various groups to contribute. It provides a perfect opportunity for Extension to enter the year-round schooling and summer intervention debates. Project YES is currently expanding in the number and size of sites in which it was initially established. The eventual success of the program relies on the involvement and input of capable professionals from all disciplines represented, physical as well as academic. Project YES has more potential to be successful than many other programs, partly because of its focus on quantitative evaluation.
As all programs of this type, success relies on future funding. With recent reductions in government spending, project organizers must be resourceful in securing funding. One should note, however, that the multidisciplinary approach of the program may help it appeal to many different funding sources. As the project cannot rely on large amounts of money being available, performing the tasks requires dedication towards all of the program goals by all involved. Cooperation and hard work are essential in presenting an effective, professional intervention program.
Berlin, G. and Sum, A. (1988). Toward a more perfect union: Basic skills, poor families and our economic future. Ford Foundation Project on Social Welfare and the American Future, New York.
Coopersmith, S.A. (1967). The antecedents of self-esteem. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.
Howell, V. (1988). An examination of year-round education: Pros and cons that challenge schooling in America. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED298 602.
Hyens, B. (1987). Schooling and cognitive development: Is there a season for learning? Child Development, 58 (5).
Marsh, H.W. and Holmes, I.W. (1990). Multidimensional self -concepts: Construct validation of responses by children. American Educational Research Journal, 27 (1), 89-117.
Marsh, H.W. and Shavelson, R.J. (1985). Self-concept: Its multifaceted, hierarchical structure. Educational Psychologist, 20, 107-125.
Roundtree, G.A. (1979). Self-esteem and social adjustment. Calcutta: Minerva Associates PVT.
Sambol, B.J. (1991). The urban child. Third National Conference: Health care for the poor and undeserved "children at risk." Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Undeserved, 2 (1), 59-73.
Zykowski, J., Mitchell, D., Hough, D., and Gavin, S. (1991). A review of year round education research. Riverside, CA: California Educational Research Cooperative.