August 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 4 // Commentary // 4COM1
Addressing Educational Needs of Youth in Today's Society
The responsibility for who will educate today's youth is shifting. Where the parents, schools, and the community once provided an equal share in the teaching of our youth, a deficit is occurring. Today's child may only have one parent, class sizes may be too large, and the community may be stretched beyond its ability to provide assistance. Extension after school programs aid in school enrichment; non-traditional 4-H projects get youth involved in their communities; and traditional 4-H programs and project camps provide adult role models and subject knowledge for youth. Extension is well situated to provide youth education in today's society.
The responsibility for who will educate today's youth is shifting. Where the parents, schools, and the community once contributed an equal share to the teaching of our youth, a deficit is now occurring. Today's child may only have one parent, class sizes in school may be too large for individual attention, and the community may be stretched beyond its ability to provide assistance by outside forces such as gang violence or a struggling economy (see Figure 1).
Extension can provide the assurance that educational needs of today's youth are being met. In many communities, after school programs, traditional 4-H programs, project camps, and non-traditional projects provided by Extension educators can and do take up the slack left by this possible void in educational opportunities for youth.
Figure 1. Divided Responsibility in Youth Education
After School Programs
With a large number of children being left unsupervised as more parents are working outside the home or as the percentage of single parents increases, a greater number of children are becoming "latch-key kids" or children who come home from school to an empty house. National studies show that children left at home alone are bored, lonely, and at the highest risk to fall into negative behavior patterns ranging from violent crime to excessive television use.
In Lewiston, Idaho, the After School Adventures Program sponsored by the University of Idaho Cooperative Extension System provides a safe, affordable, and conveniently located out-of-school environment for elementary-aged children. Patterned after similar Extension programs in the state, school-age children in kindergarten through sixth grades are bussed to central elementary school locations, which operate from school release until 6 p.m. during the regular school calendar, including early release days. Activities each day include recreational time, a nutritious snack, directed enrichment programs, and a homework club. Programs such as these also facilitate the teaching of life skills and support the development of friendships.
Parents, school-age care staff, school district principals, and teachers are complimentary regarding the program. The majority of parents rated the health/safety condition, quality of educational activities, and quality of recreational activities as excellent. The parents felt the program is successful in helping children develop interests in new topics/activities and in helping children be more willing to follow directions and rules of adults.
Program staff have been successful in helping children develop new interests, helping children become more skilled at joining group activities, and helping rejected children make new friends. The results of a nationwide poll by the Mott Foundation agreed with the Lewiston, Idaho findings. There is an abundance of visible, beneficial results from after school programs for both society and the individual child.
Traditional 4-H Programs
The Search Institute has identified 40 developmental assets that have a strong impact on young people's lives. Although this asset framework includes school involvement, community support, and individual guidance, traditional 4-H programs positively impact young lives outside of these organizations. The eight categories with which the assets are grouped are support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, constructive use of time, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity.
Youth interaction with both 4-H volunteer leaders and parent(s) meet more than half of the 40 developmental assets identified over all categories. Although 4-H projects have traditionally emphasized subject area knowledge, the interaction that occurs between member and leader while learning how to accomplish a task is highly beneficial. Trained volunteer leaders can and do fill some voids in education and mentoring in a child's development.
Non-Traditional Projects and Project Camps
4-H projects are shifting their focus to more non-traditional subjects to meet the shift in educational needs and interests of young people. In a 4-H club in West Oakland, California, youth are involved in projects from Rockets to Double Dutch jump rope. Young people in Idaho 4-H are following the national trends and learning interesting new projects such as sports-fishing and shooting sports.
Community pride projects such as the Lewiston, Idaho Downtown Association Beautification project, which partners local business owners and 4-H members to enhance the visual aspects of their downtown, provide skills in communication, citizenship, and leadership. Projects that develop social and behavioral skills without necessarily creating a tangible object for review at the end of the project year are attracting more and more interest from 4-H members. Many 4-H members themselves realize that they will positively benefit from the education they receive from these non-traditional projects.
Weekend natural resource camps such as the Inland Empire Natural Resources camp in northern Idaho provide unique opportunities for young people to come together for a short amount of time to learn a specific subject matter while interacting with peers and adults. Camps focusing on fun while encouraging learning offer opportunities for future involvement by stimulating the interest of the participants. Projects taken from beginning to completion in one day or even one afternoon can also allow learning to be tucked into the busy schedules of today's young people.
Where Will the Lines Be Drawn?
Extension educators are uniquely situated to work as partners in their communities to develop quality educational programs outside of the traditional school environment (Figure 2). While the lines of responsibility continue to shift as society changes, this shift provides Extension educators with an excellent opportunity to meet with young people living in their local communities, to work with them, and to develop their values through program development.
Figure 2. Where the Lines Could Be Drawn: The Potential for Addressing the Needs of Youth Education
Extension after school programs aid in school enrichment; non-traditional 4-H projects get youth involved in their communities; and traditional 4-H programs and project camps provide adult role models and subject knowledge for youth. Extension is well situated to fill the potential void in youth education in today's society.
Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. (1998). Nationwide poll of support for after-school programs. Lake Snell Perry/The Tarrance Group. Flint, MI.
Fox, J. A., & Newman, S. A. (1997). After-school crime or after-school programs. Report to the U.S. Attorney General: Fight Crime Invest in Kids. Washington, DC.
Heredia, C. (1999, August 4). The new 4-H. San Francisco Chronicle, pp A13, 20.
Idaho Kids Count. (2000). Idaho KIDS COUNT 1999-2000: Profiles of child well-being. Mountain States Group, Inc.: Boise, ID.
Search Institute. (1997). The asset approach: Giving kids what they need to succeed. Search Institute: Minneapolis, MN.