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Extension > Youth Development Insight > April 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014

Transforming traditional youth programs for today

4-H is changing. A couple of weeks ago at our annual staff development conference, the theme was "Building on traditions and inviting transformation." A few short months from now, we will host the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents (NAE4-HA) National Conference, where the theme will be "Tradition and Transformation".

Do you see a pattern? Transformation! Tradition has been the foundation to the 4-H educational model. The model includes youth-adult partnerships, the development of 21st century skills and a pathway to higher education. Today we are transforming our traditions for the 21st century.

How do we go about this? How do we make sure transformation feels right at home now that we've invited her in? My mom used to say "a good education starts at home." I would add that transformation starts at home, too.

Two recent experiences made me reflect on how both our staff and our programs are being transformed. I have been part of a Shared Learning Diversity and Inclusion Cohort, and in our most recent gathering, we looked at intercultural guidelines and skills that can be useful when trying to be transformative from within and with communities. These skills include things like:
  • staying curious
  • listening
  • asking clarifying questions
  • being open to new ideas and perspectives
  • authenticity
  • mindfulness
  • observation
  • empathy
  • listening to internal messages
  • giving feedback
  • acknowledging failure
  • acknowledging not knowing
  • mutual adaptation

Our group worked through practice dilemmas that we face in our diversity and inclusion work. We used intercultural skills to address the dilemma at hand and to learn from it. It was such a rich and empowering experience. For example, one county program is explore ways to engage the Latino community working on dairy farms in their region.

This cohort example demonstrates how transformation is happening among our staff and we want to continue the process throughout the organization so our programs mirror the transformative nature of our world. We also wish for all young people to take part in programs where they transform themselves and their communities for the better.

Another example is from our urban 4-H program. Take a look at how it is being transformed by African culture. Minnesota's population is diversifying rapidly. A significant number of Minnesota 4-H members are new African immigrants. We are not letting go of what traditions have given us but we are transforming the educational experiences we offer to suit the young people living in our communities today.

Have you used intercultural guidelines and skills to transform traditions? How could we use them to transform youth development into the 21st century? What diversity and inclusion practices have help you to transform youth programs? Share your examples with me and let's learn together!

-- Josey Landrieu, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Countering youth-oriented hate speech

Viral Peace. Can you imagine peace going viral as quickly as the latest online video? Can you imagine peace and tolerance overcoming hate speech?

This fantastic concept is the name of a non-government initiative whose purpose is to build capacity to counter hate speech. Small cadres of credible community leaders in eight or so countries have been trained to effectively respond to hate speech in social media and online communities. Considered counterterrorism, the leaders 'trolled' online sites relying on strategies such as logic and humor to undercut the power of the extremist rhetoric.

Is the Viral Peace model an effective strategy to spread peace and tolerance in the world? To reduce the prevalence and acceptability of hate speech? I don't know, but this past week Harvard announced the formation of a network which builds on the Viral Peace model to counter online youth-oriented hate speech. I find the announcement hopeful and the approach compelling on several levels.

We live in a world of citizen journalists and bloggers. Everyone has an opinion and is an expert. There are no controls on who publishes, and little controls on what is said, or who accesses. Media literacy is an essential survival skill in our 21st century - the ability to analyze and evaluate media. It is the ability to understand the embedded message, the spin, the faulty logic, the parts of the story that are missing - to know when you are being played. Building media literacy skills should aid our recognition of hate-speech, and the rhetoric leading us into it, for what it is. Well crafted comments added to hate speech can aid our seeing the spin and provide the missing parts to the story.

We also live in a world of clickactivism - youth are comfortable clicking a 'like' or donate button, writing a brief comment to endorse or ridicule an issue, and sharing their view with others. These common behaviors don't need to be taught. But how to best craft an effective message is a skill worth building, as is the ability to recognize microagressions as early indicators of hate-speech and intolerance.

This work might also compel us to examine the ethical values underpinning our society. As Durkheim and Haidt have pointed out, all cultures have norms to protect against harm, and most also endorse the values of justice and fairness. Other commonly endorsed values are loyalty to one's own group, authority and respect for elders and leaders, and sanctity. These last three values can build strong connections within a group, but are also related to intolerance of those not of our group, or who hold different opinions. The essential elements of good youth work, especially Belonging and Generosity, can provide balance for these values to counter any tendency toward extremism and intolerance.

I am encouraged by this effort to address youth-oriented hate speech using commonly available tools, and to build capacity in the youth and caring adults of our society to use our own voices to address the issue. Will your organization be joining The Berkman Center at Harvard in this new initiative? What is your organization already doing to address hate speech?

-- Trudy Dunham, research fellow

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Different kinds of smart

Jennifer-Skuza.jpg Youth perceive

and process information in very different ways. In fact, their learning styles are based on those two fundamental cognitive functions. Learning styles theory suggests that how much individuals learn has more to do with whether the educational experience is geared toward their particular style of learning than whether or not they are "smart." So, we should ask, How is this youth smart? rather than, Is this youth smart? Here are some general learning style classifications.

Concrete perceivers and abstract perceivers

Concrete perceivers absorb information through direct experience -- by doing, acting, sensing and feeling. Abstract perceivers, however, absorb information by analyzing, observing and thinking.

Active processors and reflective processors

Active processors make sense of an experience by immediately using the new information. Reflective processors make sense of an experience by reflecting on and thinking about it before acting on it.
Some authors suggest that practitioners should tailor their teaching styles to be more congruent with the youth they are working with. Others have suggested that a moderate learning-teaching style mismatch encourages and challenges learners to expand their capabilities.
Best practice might involve offering educational experiences that employ a variety of teaching styles. In that way, youth workers and educators can emphasize and reward the full spectrum of learning styles so that all young people have equal opportunities to learn. To do that, practitioners could place curricular emphasis on intuition, senses, feelings and imagination, in addition to skills of analysis, reason and sequential problem-solving.

In terms of instruction, practitioners may design their instruction methods to connect with all learning styles, using various combinations of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation. Practitioners may also incorporate a wide variety of experiential elements into the learning environment, such as music, sound, movement, visuals, texture, experience, and talking or signing.

How smart is this young person? A question framed in that manner implies a number of things. First it acknowledges that all youth are smart; they simply have different forms of intelligence. It also suggests that practitioners are responsible for taking initiative to find out how young people learn. It also suggests that youth should know their own preferred learning style so that they are prepared to drive their learning. Lastly, it is a strength-based way to view young people and their learning which may set the tone for positive youth development, quality of youth-practitioner relationships and effective learning environments.

What are your thoughts on learning styles?

Jennifer A. Skuza, PhD, assistant dean

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Is youth homelessness a hopeless problem?

sara-langworthy.jpg"I can remember being out walking around late at night, nothing to do, exhausted from a long day of walking, and I would see things that I thought I'd never have to experience. I never thought that one day I might be homeless in Seattle. It's a tough world when you are battling to stay alive on these district streets"

In a single night in January 2013, across the U.S. there were a total of 46,924 unaccompanied homeless youth, approximately 8% of the total homeless population for that night. Of them, 86% were 18-24 year-olds, and 13% were under the age of 18.

Homeless youth are a
particularly vulnerable and invisible population because they are often unaccompanied by family, are runaways, or have been kicked out of the home by their biological or foster families. They might try to keep safe at night by riding the city bus, sleeping in locked porta-potties, or crashing on a friend's couch. Others may live on the street in groups with other homeless youth.

Homelessness is highly related to experiencing poverty, as well as prior experiences of homelessness or housing mobility. Homelessness contributes to increased school absences, higher school mobility, and poorer academic outcomes.

Unsurprisingly, homeless youth are also at higher risk of experiencing both physical and mental health problems such as asthma, gastrointestinal problems, depression, anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Furthermore, some estimates indicate that by the age of 12, more than 80% of homeless youth have witnessed at least one incident of serious violence, indicating that these youth may be struggling with the aftermath of traumatic experiences.

Many of these youth have experienced abuse or neglect, and youth often report staying in abusive situations because of a lack of alternatives.

Despite these sobering numbers and chilling experiences endured by homeless youth, there is hope. Organizations and communities across the U.S. are working to provide homeless youth with short-term stability, an opportunity to cultivate life purpose and direction, and support for long-term health and wellness. Through this process of supporting youth as they face life challenges and work toward stability and success, communities can foster resilience in them.

One example of an organization working to build resilience in homeless youth is the Zine Project in Seattle. This organization provides a pre-vocational creative writing program for homeless youth in Seattle called "zines" (pronounced Zeens - like magazines). The program is run through a local youth drop-in center, and the goal is to enrich writing skills in youth to contribute to their future job success. The online repository of the poetry of homeless youth is an incredible window into the lives of these often-invisible adolescents.

In reading their stories, I came away thinking that their experience of homelessness does not make them irreparably broken. Thinking of homeless youth from a deficit model does them a severe disservice.

To paraphrase a quote from one of my favorite authors, John Green: (Looking for Alaska)
We need not be hopeless, because they are not irreparably broken.

These young people have skills, talents, abilities, strengths, and assets waiting to be recognized and nurtured. They are a veritable fountain of untapped potential. Those who work with youth who are homeless must recognize that potential, and provide youth with the opportunities to establish healthy long-term patterns for their lives.

-- Sara Langworthy, former policy coordinator,
Children, Youth & Family Consortium,
which is part of the Extension Center for Family Development

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