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Extension > Youth Development Insight > September 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Increase reflection to strengthen program quality

anne-stevenson.jpgReflection is essential for learning. Creating opportunities for young people to reflect on their experiences is a critical component to strengthening program quality, yet is often the most challenging to implement.

So why is it so hard to do in our programs?

We fall into the trap of thinking of reflection as something that can only be done at the end of a program session, and we often run short of time to finish an activity, let alone reflection. Most of us are not taught to be reflective learners nor are young people offered much opportunity to pause and reflect as part of their typical day or out-of-school program schedule.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Who is getting outdoors? Mainly the white and well-off

Cathy-Jordan.jpgHave you been to a national park lately? If so, then chances are, you're white and have a relatively high income.

Recently I've attended several events about children, families and outdoor play and learning. I noticed that, whether it was a professional event held in a conference room or a family event in a park, most of the attendees looked like me. This observation is borne out by research. Though some advances in gender diversity have been made within the "green workforce", racial diversity lags far behind.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) found that visitors to parks in Minnesota are more likely to be white and non-Hispanic and have higher incomes than the Minnesota population overall. In 2007, 98% of park users were white. Some creative strategies on the part of the DNR have begun to shift the balance, though. Focus group information gathered by the Metropolitan Council suggests that various cultural groups use parks more or less frequently, use the parks differently, have different needs, and hold different perceptions about parks, such as how safe they are.
Disparities in who has access to and who uses outdoor recreation andKids-looking-at-stream.jpg learning environments matters. We know that time spent in nature provides a host of health, mental health, educational and developmental benefits, especially for children and youth. Getting kids and families of color and immigrant children and families out into nature is increasingly important as our state's demographics diversify.
We might be more successful in getting people into nature if the adults -- the park rangers, trail guides, naturalists, youth workers, and environmental educators -- reflected our state's increasing diversity. In part, this is the work of Wilderness Inquiry's Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures (UWCA). UWCA is also connecting thousands of urban youth to nature through learning adventures in parks, lakes and rivers in our urban environment with the aim of improving health and engagement with learning. Maybe these young people will engage with nature enough to pursue careers or avocation in the parks as adults.
These disparities in access and use are the focus of a Nov. 5 all-day event in Maplewood, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Children and Nature Connection. "Connecting Diverse Communities to the Outdoors: Addressing Culture, Equity and Access." The issues will be framed by Ryan O'Connor, Ramsey County policy and planning director, informed by the research of Yingling Fan at the University of Minnesota and Raintry Salk of the Metropolitan Council, as well as panelists highlighting local, state and national perspectives. Attendees will get involved in designing initiatives to address culture, equity and access. The event will end on a fun note, with an informal reception and pecha kucha style talks. Consider yourself invited!

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.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cultural resilience: A framework for promoting assets

kate-walker.jpgMinnesota's educational achievement gap between whites and students of color has been narrowing, but remains one of the highest in the nation. To more fully address youth's learning and gaps in academic performance, we need to redefine educational excellence in a global society.

To be successful in school now and ready for college and careers later, young people need to develop a range of skills that extends beyond traditional academics. Content knowledge and academic skills are important, but it is also critical that youth learn how to work well with others, persevere when faced with challenges, and recognize when a new strategy is needed to solve a problem. These social and emotional factors are critical to young people's success, and they can be developed through diverse life experiences and overcoming hardships or struggles.

On Oct. 2, Dr. JuanCarlos Arauz will share a framework for creating a rigorous inclusive environment with a diverse community and reframe the concept of equity issues from a deficit approach to an asset-based approach by identifying the skills young people gain from their diverse life experiences and translating them into success within and beyond the classroom. For those who want to dig deeper, on Oct. 3 Dr. Arauz will facilitate a training for those working directly with young people. You can register for either event or both on our website. This symposium and training is part of our series dedicated to understanding social and emotional learning and its contribution to closing the achievement and opportunity gaps.

Dr. Arauz' work on cultural resilience outlines five competencies derived from life experiences that can be correlated to 21st century skills:
  1. Acculturation - The ability to survive one's environment by analyzing two or more cultural contexts that show various perspectives, observations, and experiences.
  2. Navigation of borders - The ability to survive and navigate a continually changing environment.
  3. Inter/Intra cultural communication - The ability to effectively communicate with an individual from a different cultural background.
  4. Teamwork - The ability to place a priority on the needs of the group by effectively influencing and being influenced, while collaborating with others to accomplish a group task.
  5. Creative Self-Expression - The ability to solve problems creatively that do not necessarily have a solution.
What critical skills do you see young people developing from their diverse life experiences? What life experiences may result in the development of cultural resilience competencies? As someone working with and on behalf of young people, how might you prepare them to thrive in a global society?

-- Kate Walker, associate Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice

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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