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Extension > Youth Development Insight > January 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Where do culture and research meet?

Josey-Landrieu.jpgI'm part of a large research team working with Latino youth who participate in community-based after-school programs. Among other things we want to understand how culture might impact the experiences of young people in youth programs, especially Latino youth.

I find myself reflecting on two things. First, what is the impact or relationship between culture and the program experience of the participants? And second, where do culture and research meet? In other words, how does culture influence not only the experience of the youth but also how does it affect our research process? How is culture part of our work?

I haven't lost sleep over it, but I'm pretty close. And this is where I need your help. How do we anchor ourselves as culturally relevant researchers while trying to understand the cultural experiences of young people?

The definition of culture varies with a person's perspective. Consequently, no single definition is universally accepted by social scientists. Nevertheless, if we engage in culturally relevant work, it is important to set some common understanding of how culture might intersect with our work as researchers, practitioners, and policy makers.

I draw from the work of Rohner , who defined four elements of how culture is embedded in our work and often, the entire research process.
  1. All individuals develop in a cultural context.
  2. Culturally based values are passed from one generation to the next.
  3. Many aspects of culture are abstract, in that they are not overtly or intentionally socialized: "they are simply absorbed by children throughout the course of development" (Hughes, Seidman, and Williams, 1993)
  4. Culture is evidenced in patterns among members of a group as well as between the group and the larger context.
anchor.jpgAs researchers we ask ourselves questions like: How is culture experienced in these community-based settings? How do these youth learn and explore their culture through positive learning experiences? How does culture influence the development of adolescents in after-school programs? How do we make sure to capture the impact that cultural processes might have in these young people's experiences?

My question to you is: In order to find the answers to these questions, should we anchor our work culturally? Should we struggle through cultural meanings and nuances both within our work teams and with our participants? My answer is "of course!"
In 1993, Hughes, Seidman, and Williams said: "The culturally anchored researcher must weigh the trade-offs between sensitivity to cultural nuances of the target population and the methodological requirements of objectivity, standardization and generalizability". These authors also ask researchers to adopt the following guidelines when working with underrepresented, often underserved audiences and participants:
  1. Bring multiple stakeholders to the table when formulating the question or topic of interest, the target populations, instruments, and relevant concepts.
  2. Choose, combine, and develop methods applicable not only to your research question but also to the cultural nuances of the population you wish to work with.
  3. Use caution when defining a cultural group. How do you decide who is part of a group and who is not?
Our team has worked actively with youth and program staff to devise questions for participants and piloted a few of them. For example: "How is culture present in the program experience?" "What stories do your parents tell you about their youth?"

What additional guidelines would you offer to work teams who strive to understand and illustrate the experiences of minority youth in after school programs? What questions would you ask youth participants about the role of culture in youth programs? What has worked for you?

-- Josey Landrieu, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech - any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Problem youth or problem adults?

Cecilia-Gran.jpgHave you ever heard of the word "ephebiphobia?" I hadn't until I ran into it when I was looking for information on the subject of youth rights. It means the fear and loathing of adolescents and it results in an "irrational, exaggerated, and sensational characterization of young people"

Coined by Kirk Astroth, a 4-H outreach agent in Montana, today ephebiphobia is recognized as a major issue in youth engagement throughout society. Sociologists, government agencies, educators, and youth advocacy organizations use the word to describe any loathing, paranoia, or fear of young people or of that time of life called "youth".

This reminded me of a piece of curriculum content we cover in the Youth Work Institute's Culturally Responsive Youth Work Matters course on adultism. In this piece, we focus on adultism and internalized adultism -- how young people are discriminated against in adult-defined institutions and how young people sometimes internalize this mistreatment against themselves or other youth. The essence of adultism is disrespect of the young.

pointing-at-youth.jpgThe other day I was talking with a county social worker who wants me to speak to his staff about adultism at an upcoming meeting. When he brought the topic up to his supervisor for her approval, she responded that adultism isn't as bad as the other "isms" and it wouldn't be a very interesting topic. Hmm.

John Bell addressed this issue in a 1995 article called Understanding adultism: A key to developing positive youth and adult relationships"). Bell believes that racism, sexism, all the other isms reinforce each other in American culture, but the phenomenon of being disrespected simply because one is young is an ism that crosses many cultures around the globe. That is what makes this problem so complex. It's everywhere and we have all experienced it in one way or another because we have all have been young. The feeling of "less than" has been normalized. It feels like that's just the way things are.

So, now I want to ask the following question about a current issue that has been troubling me for some time.

Here in Minnesota, does the Anoka-Hennepin School District's controversial Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, a.k.a. the "neutrality policy" on the issue of bullying have anything to do with ephebiphobia or adultism in some way? The policy requires adult staff members to remain neutral on issues involving student sexual orientation. The new alternative policy, called Controversial Topics Curriculum policy, states that discussion of controversial topics in class is helpful, but forbids staff members from taking sides with youth, even when bullying is going on.

What does controversial mean? Is it controversial to be gay? Do either of these adult-created policies and/or rules protect, nurture, and support all youth? Do they create an atmosphere of respect and care for all young people? Is adultism at work here? What do you think?

Cecilia Gran, Youth Work Institute associate program director and state faculty member

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech - any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fostering positive youth development in nature spaces

Rebecca-Meyer.jpgIn his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv used the term "nature-deficit disorder" to describe the alarming lack of connection between American youth and their natural environments. Other researchers have documented the multiple ways this nature-disconnect is contributing to negative outcomes for children. An article in the popular Sports Illustrated describes Americans as becoming "indoor people".

Today, lots of nature program efforts are focused on this "nature-deficit." However, I wonder how we can make the most of these beneficial nature settings for youth. How can we use nature settings or nature spaces to cultivate positive youth development?

A growing body of research links youth exposure to nature settings with a variety of positive personal and environmental impacts. Studies have suggested that natural spaces can contribute to positive outcomes via a variety of factors -- sense of health, sense of well-being, sense of place, sense of community -- related to positive youth development.

youth-nature.jpgThese ideas are well established, by writers such as Chawla, McMillan & Chavis, and Sobel. Indeed, researchers have described nature spaces as part of the very "geography of childhood", the setting where they create "sacred spaces."

My interest in the role of nature spaces for positive youth development was sparked early in my career, and provided focus for my graduate study. My thesis, Effects of Green Space on Urban Children's Sense of Community, explored the relationship of green space with youth interactions. Using an ethnographic approach, I documented elements in local park spaces that encouraged youth to come together, and play freely, even when they did not know each other beforehand.

I observed how these qualities of the nature space enriched youths' sense of community. For example, one park encompassed a stream with two natural waterfalls. One that cascaded through the space and provided a natural waterslide for youth play. I witnessed youth using it as a slide, meeting other children for the first time, developing and teaching 'rules' of the slide, and welcoming others. At the other slide, I saw older youth "hiding" among the higher rocks for close conversation, and welcoming newcomers into swimming and games of fetch and retrieval.

Nature spaces can be a powerful setting in which we can provoke positive youth development, given right mix of nature elements and programming.

In April, I will be presenting a webinar on the role of natural spaces in as a place for positive youth development. As I build my presentation, I am gathering ideas from others. In your experience or in your opinion, how can we best use natural spaces as a setting to catalyze positive youth development? What are some methods you use to make the most of nature space for positive youth development?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Developing career pathways for youth workers

Thumbnail image for nextgen-main-logo.jpgThere is a perpetual discussion in the youth work field about how to create career pathways and other growth opportunities for staff working in youth programs. We have perhaps millions of people employed across the country in a variety of youth programs ranging from before and after school to out- of-school time to youth development to summer programs and camps. Most of these jobs are part-time, and if they are full-time, the pay is low to moderate and growth opportunities are limited. How do we create more growth opportunities for youth workers? What pathways might we develop to help youth workers pursue a career in the field?

Rebecca GoldbergThe California Teacher Pathway provides an example of preparing young people who want to become teachers to attend community college and then a California State University for their Bachelor's degree and teaching credential. To help them gain more experience, the students are matched with part-time jobs in after school programs while taking academic classes. I've seen firsthand many struggling students actually do better academically in college when they are also working in a youth program because the work helps inspire their education and motivates them knowing they are role models to the youth they are serving. A recent issue brief published by Ready by 21 as part of the Credentialed by 26 Series titled "When Working Works: Employment & Postsecondary Success," reinforces this concept confirming that working 20 hours or less per week can benefit college students' academic performance, especially when it is contextualized to their area of study. Youth work jobs connected to teacher preparation programs are the perfect marriage of work and academic study.

There are significant challenges in developing career pathways for youth work that we will delve into further in next month's Next Gen blog, but in the meantime do you have other examples to share of successful career pathway programs or resources for youth workers? To spur some further thinking and discussion, read the report Organizing Pathways for Leadership Development and Social Change. Let's kick off the conversation and continue to let the complexities unfold in the next months!

Rebecca Goldberg, South Bay Center for Community Development

Co-Director of Career & Workforce Development , and Next Gen Leadership Council

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Beyond boring data

Samantha-Grant.jpgBy now, we are all convinced of the importance of doing evaluation of our programs. I hope we've all begun to collect data to inform our stakeholders and ourselves about how our programs are doing. I have blogged about practical evaluation in youth programs, and the theme of evaluation has been echoed by others in their posts.

Let's assume that you are collecting and analyzing data about your program -- what next? I argue that you must put in as much effort in communicating data as you did in collecting it.

Before making choices about how to package your data, think about:
  1. What data do you have?
  2. Who is the target audience for the data?
  3. What do you want your target audience to know?
In the fall 2011 issue of New Directions for Evaluation, Stephanie Evergreen makes a case for thinking like a graphic designer when communicating data. She states, "Evaluators have a responsibility to make their work as clear and accessible as possible, both to enhance the evaluation's credibility and to encourage the use of evaluation in program change." I agree with her but also think youth workers who do evaluation carry this same responsibility.

numbers.jpgEvergreen says that we have a bad habit of making our communication of data boring: "The disconnect lies between our desire to have our findings used and our methods of presenting them." Are you boring your audience with data?

In youth work we have the tendency to be so pleased that we've conducted evaluations that we neglect to think about use and communication. What good are the data if we can't communicate them in a compelling manner? How can we best create communications with users in mind?

Here are some ways to create more compelling communications of data. Compare them with what you do:
  • Jot down the key messages from your evaluation. Build your presentation around these. Think about how you can make these 2-3 ideas stick.

  • Ask youth to help. Chances are they will be able to help you get your creative juices flowing. Plus the act of engaging others in discussing your communication methods has to help you break out of your presentation rut.

  • For an oral presentation, follow the 10-minute rule: if you can't get your point across in 10 minutes, restructure what you're talking about, otherwise your audience will be snoozing.

  • Think about creating two evaluation reports -- one with more depth for stakeholders who want the details and another short, 1-2 page summary that can be shared widely.
Have you found interesting, engaging ways to share evaluation data? What difference has it made?

--Samantha Grant, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation
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