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Extension > Youth Development Insight > February 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

What is "urban" youth development?

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Race has shaped the definition of the word "urban." This provokes a question for us in the Minnesota 4-H Urban Youth Development Office: what exactly is "urban" youth development?

We have developed the following strategies, or ways of working, in our effort to serve the most marginalized (but not necessarily urban) youth.

  • We "partner with" rather than "bring programming or information to" the youth and adults we serve. The best way to engage any audience is build opportunities together. An even exchange of ideas allows both parties to recognize and work from their own expertise, while gaining new knowledge and experiences from what their partner has to offer.
  • We use a youth engagement approach that helps us promote from within. Our youth have opportunities to lead and engage with adults in developing and improving our programs. They build on and see their own growing expertise, and many have come to work with us as paid staff, thus adding to the varied experiences of the Urban 4-H team.
  • We help young people transform hope into expectation. As our 4-H'ers discover their interests, we help them connect those interests to future opportunity by learning to overcome barriers and see as real what seem like mere possibilities.
  • We help youth see themselves as lifelong learners. Continual reflection, opportunity to showcase learning, receive feedback, and make improvements based on this feedback, offer a chance for youth to see learning as continual.
In working to girls-with-microphone2.jpgmeet the needs of the most impoverished youth, we actually learn to conduct high-quality programming for all young people. The emphasis of our practice (as should be any method of positive youth development) is on seeing all young people, whether black or white, urban or rural, poor or well-off, as assets rather than problems to be fixed.
So for Urban 4-H, "urban" youth development is not just about tweaking our programming to meet the needs of urban youth. Urban youth development is about helping youth and adults to cross the mental boundaries that cause the racialization of the word urban to begin with. We're helping people navigate cultural clashes by providing them with authentic and meaningful opportunity to connect with one another, such as:
  • County and regional 4-H events that intentionally recruit from across different types of 4-H communities
  • Short, intensive experiences, such as overnight retreats and cultural exchange trips, for youth from varying backgrounds to get to know one another by having fun, learning from one another, and talking about common issues
  • Training adult facilitators (interns, volunteers, and staff from partner agencies) to use specific resources to help them and young people navigate cultural differences
  • Identifying leaders from each 4-H role (volunteer, intern, partner, youth) who can act as "bridges" to inclusion. As bridges, they encourage fellow participants to consider ways of welcoming and engaging with new audiences
How has your experience with the word "urban" shaped your view of youth development? What are successful ways that you have found to help combat the prejudice that sometimes exists towards urban youth?
-- Jessica Russo, assistant Extension professor and director


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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

We're putting engineering at the center of STEM programming

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The Minnesota 4-H program is increasing efforts to enhance science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program opportunities, specifically focusing on the E -- engineering and the engineering process.

What is the engineering process? This is National Engineers Week, and it seems important to explain how the engineering process is different from, but related to, inquiry. Inquiry is about asking questions in depth. It has these phases: sparking curiosity, articulating curiosity into questions, systematically investigating questions, interpreting the meaning of results, and improving ideas and explanations.

Engineering, in the simplest terms, is about solving problems. It is the application of science, mathematics, economics, and experience to design products, processes, or services. The engineering design process is used to fulfill these goals, through a systematic and iterative approach that involves asking questions, imagining solutions, planning things out, creating, optimizing and improving.

According to Dym, et. al. in their article, Engineering Design Thinking, Teaching, and Learning, "Design thinking reflects the complex processes of inquiry and learning that designers perform in a systems context, making decisions as they proceed, often working collaboratively on teams in a social process, and "speaking" several languages with each other (and to themselves)."

In Minnesota 4-H we support youth STEM learning through a variety of project areas. This includes robotics, aquatic robotics, and new this year, the 4-H Engineering Design Challenge -- the Rube Goldberg Machine contest.


The 4-H Engineering Design Challenge will engage and, yes, challenge youth to develop 21st century learning and innovation skills -- critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity. I am already excited and energized by this!

What are strategies you recommend for elevating and discovering engineering design? What will we find as we continue to elevate and refine engineering design in the Minnesota 4-H STEM program?

-- Rebecca Meyer, Extension educator

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, February 12, 2014

The next generation of youth data: Will we consult young people this time around?

Deborah-Moore.jpgWe seem to be at a time of renewed interest in creating shared data across youth programs. For example, we recently hosted Dr. Roger Weissberg on the importance of social and emotional outcomes for youth and featured many blog posts this fall on the topic.

But if you have been in the field long enough, you have seen this before. At one point, there was on emphasis on participation and counting --- where it seemed an onerous task to sort out who showed up and who stayed. I remember those days fondly now.

Then there was the call for quantifying what difference youth programs make in learning and developmental outcomes for young people. Yes, people - we can make a difference!

Next, there came the tools and rationale to assess and improve levels of program quality as highlighted in Yohalem's article on quality assessments.

Turns out, we can focus on data that is good for practitioners, youth and stakeholders, all at the same time -- when we select a good tool. Data can be a powerful tool for understanding some aspects of what happens when we work with youth in our communities.

In each phase of evolution around measuring youth work, I could argue that we have both gained and lost something in the process of focusing and clarifying what we will measure and how. But what I cannot see consistently in any of these movements to adopt new data sources is how young people play a role beyond informant.

Why, at each data intersection, do we forget to involve youth in determining this with us?

It matters because I suspect we are at another intersection of data "policy" development, and I am not sure we are upping our bets for success by including youth this time, either. There are many examples in the literature about the benefits to youth involved in leading evaluation work, such as social capital building, civic competencies, self-confidence, identity creation and more. I am convinced there is an equal, if not exponential benefit for stakeholders in out-of-school time. Jane Powers talks about how involving youth in evaluation, from start to finish, created better research, better interpretation, and easier buy-in from stakeholders. So why don't we consider this methodology as a must in youth work?

For my part, I spent the last year working with a group of youth work practitioners exploring the question: "What is the Role of Youth in Evaluation?" The focus of this project was to both challenge our own thinking and practices related to youth taking a significant role in evaluation and to begin tackling contexts for change beyond our own daily interactions. Each of these 20 practitioners are hard at work trying to figure out how to make change where they have influence.

What are you going to do as we move to critical decision points about data in the field? What if a third set of data that we aligned around was youth-led evaluation? How could that look from all of our vantage points?

If you are a practitioner and need some resources to make it real - check out one of the many practical guides to partnering with youth in evaluation from the Forum for Youth Investment.

As the youth summed it up for us during the past year, here are the Top 10 Things Adults Should Know About Involving Youth in Evaluation:
  1. Hey!
  2. I have great ideas
  3. Ask me what I think
  4. Remember us
  5. Make me comfortable
  6. Provide the means
  7. Trust me
  8. Believe in me
  9. Let us do the planning
  10. Peace Out.

-- Deborah Moore, state educator, program quality


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, February 5, 2014

SEL in action: Blown away by 3 young people's voices

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When were you last captivated by youth voice on stage? Last month three young people blew a spark into my work when they spoke about the ways that social and emotional skills have helped them.

They spoke at the Children & Youth Issue Briefing to more than 1,000 people who came to think and learn about:


  1. Minnesota's innovative efforts to address key challenges and close the opportunity gap
  2. Issues affecting children and youth looking ahead to the 2014 legislative session
  3. Minnesota young people's experiences and perspective on the opportunity gap
In my work on the social and emotional learning initiative (SEL), my colleagues and I get immersed in research, develop resources and provide learning opportunities focused on moving SEL from research into action. During the panel, led by University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler, I saw SEL skills live and on stage, articulated beautifully by this youth panel.

The three students spoke candidly about their lives, their school environment, challenges with cultural bias, barriers with teachers, and the reality of the opportunity gap. But they also acknowledged what worked well in their lives.

What worked well helps us to recognize what SEL skills and competencies look like. What I saw on stage was an impressive self awareness that illustrated these SEL skills and supports:
  • youth with internal grit and perseverance
  • youth benefiting from supportive mentors
  • youth challenged by high parent expectations
  • youth with a healthy dose of hope for the future in the midst of adversity
  • youth with colorful-stories of self management
As an example, Essence shared a story of self management in middle school when she was sent to the office for bad behavior. Begrudgingly she met with the school counselor -- a relationship that has blossomed. Through this mentor, she has mastered self management skills such as (in her words) "helping me control my mouth". She now channels her outspokenness into speaking out on issues that matter to youth. She is now a high school freshman and a spokesperson for Minnesota youth.

youth-and-kaler.jpgMalika is an immigrant who connected with an adult mentor eight years ago. This mentor has helped her develop her perseverance, assimilate into our culture and have hope for the future. Malika is articulate, engaging, carving a path with self motivation and will graduate from high school this June.

We all shared Corey's joy about navigating his way to college graduation. He spoke about the many financial and social challenges he experienced and conquered that demonstrated a persistence and self awareness of his personal goals.

These youth showed us SEL skills and competencies live and on stage, illuminating to a large audience how important these skills are to youth succeeding in a world full of obstacles, including a well recognized opportunity gap.

If you are interested in the perspective from some of the other speakers at this captivating briefing, I recommend these two summaries that focus more on the legislative and social issues addressed, from the Minnesota Council on Foundations and my colleague at the University of Minnesota College of Education.

We need more adults to recognize what these skills look like and to recognize the opportunity adults have to play a key role in supporting youth success. Have you ever been ignited by social and emotional learning skills demonstrated by a young person?

Margo Herman, Extension educator

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.
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