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Extension > Youth Development Insight > August 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Working hard or working smart?

Samantha-Grant.jpg"How could we know as much as we do, spend as much as we do, care as much as we say we do and accomplish so little for so many kids over so long a period of time?"

That is one powerful statement by Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. For anyone interested in the achievement gap, I encourage you to listen to his speech during this year's Ready by 21 National meeting. You will ride the wave of deep sadness to hope all in this 30-minute presentation. He had me at the first line, but the whole speech is thought provoking.

No one who understands the reality of education and youth work would say that educators don't care deeply and work hard. But I wonder- are we working smart? Smith talks about how in programs we will hold dearly to one that has a specific outcome for a specific population. Often times we know that this program doesn't have lasting power and it certainly isn't sustainable if scaled up. Sound familiar?

So here's where I argue with myself when it comes to the goal of programs:
  1. The youth program part of me says that we should develop responsive programs to the needs of audiences. In fact, that's what Extension is all about. Sometimes getting a handful of kids to master a new skill or grow in their social emotional learning is at the core of what youth work is really about. It doesn't have to be a "one size fits all" model.

  2. On the other hand, the evaluator side of me says it's important to have programs with demonstrated positive outcomes. Without testing our programs to see the impact that they have on our target populations, we are cheating our main audience - the young people themselves.
What I have seen in the education and youth work field in response to this tension is an emphasis on collective impact. Strategic consulting firm FSG says collective impact occurs "when organizations from different sectors agree to solve a specific social problem using a common agenda, aligning their efforts, and using common measures of success."

I love the idea of communities coming together to support young people. With this mindset, organizations can focus on what they do well and then work with other agencies to help to fully support youth in all areas of development.

What do you think? Should programs be responsive to needs or scalable? Should we focus on the success of individual programs or the collective impact of many?

Does any of this matter? Yes. If we know that many children are not getting what they need, it does matter. In fact, it matters a lot.

-- Samantha Grant, 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, August 13, 2014

Cook-offs promote healthy eating for life

carrie-ann-olson.jpgWill you try an unidentified "healthy" food item because someone tells you it's good for you? Most likely not. The same is true for young people. But if you involve youth in preparing a menu item using some not-so-familiar "healthy" food ingredients, they'll probably taste it. They may even learn to like it!

Engaging youth in cooking can get them interested in trying healthy foods they might otherwise disdain, according to Susan Moores, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (Magee, 2014).

We know that eating habits are established early in life. Studies tell us that youth who are involved in meal preparation and cooking are better at making healthy food choices. In fact youth engaged in a higher frequency of helping prepare and cook food are associated with a higher self-efficacy for selecting and eating healthy foods. Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children.

Chef for a Day is a 4-H nutrition and food preparation event now in its third year at the Minnesota State Fair. With all the interest in TV cooking shows and competitions, this growing program fetches high marks from participants. The Minnesota 4-H version at the state fair includes a food safety and knife skills session with professional chefs (recruited from a partnership with the Cooking Matters program).

Self - Reported in end of event 2014 evaluations; girls-with-veggie-basket.jpg
  • 95% - reported they learned how to make healthy food choices
  • 94% - reported they learned how to use knives correctly & safely and that they learned how to prepare meat as a protein source
  • 40% of the participants reported learning to season with herbs was new to them.
During the cookoff, teams of 4-H'ers develop a recipe and prepare an assigned food item from a common pantry. Cooking in teams is new for many youth and requires team decision-making to agree on a recipe and how to prepare it. The team approach encourages youth to try new ingredients -- a positive form of peer-encouraged risk taking.

Cooking with youth is the gift that keeps on giving; it has both short-term and long-term payoffs. In the short-term, youth:
  • Try healthy foods
  • Feel like they are accomplishing something and contributing
  • Are more likely to sit down to a meal when they helped prepare it
  • Aren't spending time in front of the TV or computer while they're cooking
  • Generally aren't eating junk food when they're cooking a meal at home
In the long term, they:
  • Learn a life-long skill
  • Learn to eat well
  • Build self-confidence

How are you able to engage youth in making healthy food choices within your programming? Are you able to involve them in the food preparation? Can you provide ingredient options and have youth complete the final steps in making a snack? Can you host a local cook-off competition with youth maybe partnering with adults or challenging local adult celebrities?

Some excellent resources can be found on the USDA website.

-- Carrie Ann Olson
Extension educator & associate Extension professor

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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