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Extension > Youth Development Insight > February 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Don't let borders get in the way of learning

Thumbnail image for Jennifer-Skuza.jpgCultural education is an important part of preparing youth to thrive in a global world. Today's youth have greater opportunities for interactions with people from different cultural backgrounds and world views than previous generations have had. These opportunities might be seen as obstacles to effective interaction and learning if youth are not equipped with the cultural abilities to bridge these differences and reap the tremendous value rooted in intercultural interactions.

The nonformal learning environments found in many youth programs are ideal places to nurture this cultural learning. Unbound by the rules and expectations faced by schools, they have the potential to be relaxed enough so that youth feel comfortable sharing personal experiences and challenging their own and others' thinking.

Here are four commonly used cultural education approaches; each has a distinct purpose and role in fostering cultural education and puts forth a unique form of critical pedagogy. The application of each approach often results in an overlap or blend of purposes, which you will notice in the following examples.

Which approach or combination of approaches suits your philosophy of youth development and way of designing youth programs?

Multicultural education

The main goal of this approach is to reform schools, institutions, and organizations so that individuals from diverse backgrounds experience educational equity. Examples include Canada's multicultural education policies, the Northstar STEM Alliance, geared to broaden the participation of underrepresented student minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and a Youth Work Institute training designed to teach youth workers how to build inclusive youth programs.

Multicultural education addresses both equity and oppression and aims to create change on individual and institutional levels. To learn more about multicultural education, start with some literature by James A. Banks.

Social justice approach

Globe.jpgThis approach aims to resolve injustice by identifying issues, removing social barriers, emancipating individuals and groups, and creating social change. Examples include the Peace Jam movement, an international organization designed to help young people become social change agents, led by youth and with an affiliate in north Minneapolis.

Like multicultural education, this approach addresses equity and oppression and seeks deep change of multiple levels. However, it places greater emphasis on the change that occurs within individuals and therefore can be a very personal experience. For more on the social justice approach to cultural education, explore Paulo Freire's work.

Intercultural education

Intercultural education focuses on building and strengthening cultural interactions among people. It could be in the form of cultural immersion summer camp, cultural simulation activities like the underground railroad or Star Power, or intercultural communication training or courses. It is highly experiential and focuses on what connects people - their communication and relationships. In this way, cultural understanding is possible through shared cultural experiences with others.

This approach aims to teach learners to nimbly do the frame shifting needed in intercultural contexts. In it, they examine their assumptions and begin to understand how their thinking impacts their interactions with others. Like intercultural education, it reinforces human relationships but is also interested in developing independent and critically thinking leaders that are able to see their and others' worlds through a global lens. Some examples of this approach include a curriculum designed to show youth how to participate and lead in a global society that I wrote with Jessica Russo and Ali Hurtado called WeConnect.

Others include the Global Youth Leaders Conference, and the International 4-H Exchange Program, which provides opportunities for youth to implement action plans upon their return. For more information on international education, read some of Joseph Mestenhauser's work.

How have you incorporated cultural education into your youth work practice, teaching or research?

Jennifer Skuza, Extension professor and program leader

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Who can assess the quality of a youth program?

Thumbnail image for Samantha-Grant.jpgCan youth and volunteers effectively assess program quality? Does it matter if adult volunteers or 4-H staff are paired with youth to complete assessments?

Early results from our Minnesota 4-H Quality Improvement Study suggest that youth and volunteers can indeed assess quality and can work with local 4-H clubs to improve their programs. We have also learned that, for the most part, whether youth are paired with adult volunteers or staff made little difference.

Source 4-HCover.JPGTraditionally, program quality is assessed using reliable, trained
assessors. Taking that model to scale in a youth organization with more than 130,000 youth would be impossible, so our study sought to discover how to measure quality in a youth and volunteer-led organization.

The study design called for 40 coaches (20 youth and 20 adults)
receiving a two-day training on how to observe program quality using the Weikart Center's Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA). Participants were grouped into 20 pairs: half of them one youth and one adult volunteer; the other half one youth and one 4-H staff member. Each youth-adult team assessed at least two 4-H clubs for a total of 40 4-H clubs observed.

The goal of the study was to investigate the nuances of using an
alternative assessment approach. It was not designed to measure the actual extent of quality improvement attained or compare trained assessors with volunteer assessors. We viewed the process of engaging, as a member of the 4-H program, as a step toward building a quality
improvement system.

Results revealed that:

  • Youth and adults played an equal role in the observation and initial assessment scoring.
  • Youth involvement in the data collection was seen as extremely valuable.
  • Observed 4-H clubs were receptive to this opportunity and viewed the assessment process as a positive one.


We at the Extension Center for Youth Development are taking this work to scale in 4-H clubs around Minnesota. The project represents a fine expression of the University of Minnesota's land-grant mission: to bring research and practice expertise together to support local community needs. For more on program quality and how to measure it, visit our website's program quality research page.

Is your youth program finding ways to measure program quality? How are you doing it?

Samantha Grant, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

Read the Preliminary Minnesota 4-H Quality Improvement Study.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Do outcome evaluations put young people down?

Pamela-Nippolt.jpgIn the winter issue of New Directions for Evaluation, Sarah Zeller-Berkman, director of the Beacons National Strategy Initiative, argues that youth development evaluations reinforce the "status quo" for young people in the United States. She suggests that Western society systematically excludes young people, and that the designs for outcome evaluations play a role in that exclusion. Evaluation studies are largely designed based on assumptions that youth are incomplete and "less than" adults. We do this, she contends, by focusing on individual youth outcomes and ignoring the differences that youth make when they engage with adults, in organizations, and in communities.

The author reviewed 209 evaluations of out-of-school time programs contained in the Harvard Family Research Project database and found that "only a handful of them measured community- or systems-level outcomes, while the majority measured individual gains related to academic achievement and youth-development outcomes." The one-way street for documenting that our youth development programs are making a difference is "fundamentally flawed" Zeller-Berkman concludes. This got my attention.

Youth programs benefit adults, too


A couple of years ago, our center partnered across 11 states to collect data from more 3,000 adults who volunteered in 4-H programs. In this survey (as yet unpublished), adults told us the many ways that they benefit from their involvement with youth. Several themes emerged:

  • Youth-Gardening.jpg increased self confidence for adults

  • improved social skills for adults

  • stronger community connections for adults

  • new learning of subject matter for adults and

  • access to creative outlets through the program for adults.

The adult volunteers wouldn't have gained these benefits without youth participation! To take these benefits into account, Zeller-Berkman urges us to design outcome evaluations that include:
  • the changes that result in the community from partnerships with youth

  • program designs that do this effectively, and

  • strategies written by youth that change adults and communities for the better.



Is it time to re-think the way we approach outcome evaluation in the youth development field? What would you change?


Pamela Larson Nippolt, state faculty and program leader, program evaluation


Zeller-Berkman's article is available to subscribers here.



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