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Extension > Youth Development Insight > 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

For personal sustainability, mind your relationships

By Nicole Pokorney

Last week I was reminded of the importance of just sitting down and talking with another person for the sake of honest, open discussion and networking.  I sit on a national committee with staff from all over the country, from Hawaii to Vermont. We come together once a year face to face and while we have two full days of business to tend to, we also take intentional time to go out to dinner and talk without an agenda. It's not an option - it's essential.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Make meetings meaningful

By Brian McNeill

Meetings can be important and useful, or they can be a waste of time. How many of us have sat in a meeting and thought, "Is this meeting ever going to start?" or worse, "Is this meeting ever going to end?"

The typical American professional attends more than 60 meetings per month, and about half of that time is wasted.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What does it mean to be a youth development professional?

By Margo Bowerman

I've been a youth development professional for 17 years now. And it is not just because I get paid to do this work that I proudly claim the title of a professional.

How do you define "professional?" There are all sorts of professionals in society: youth development professionals, professional football players, professional politicians, and professional ecologists, among countless others.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Choir singing is good for your health. Yes, really.

By Sara Langworthy

I've been a singer as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to sing solos at church but was too scared to speak to strangers who complimented me on my voice. Ahh introversion! But as I grew, my love for music grew with me. From middle school on, I was pretty solidly a "choir kid." There's something deeply soul-filling and rich about joining my voice with others that's hard to describe.

Simply put: singing together connects me with others in a way that nothing else can. And as it turns out, the data bear out this belief.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How to foster youth empathy

Lots of recent events have me wondering how to encourage and foster empathy. Empathy is when one person is able to understand how another person is feeling. This sense of understanding is not something we are born with, it is a skill that we learn. The ability to empathize is critical because it allows us to understand other people. It's an opportunity to show caring and compassion; one of the 5 C's of positive youth development. And, it's an essential skill for creating an inclusive world.

We as youth workers have an important role play. We can facilitate strategies to develop and nurture empathy in young people. Embedded in hands-on experiential learning processes, the following strategies can help support development of empathy in youth:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Developing a love for learning

By Jessica Pierson Russo

We want so many things for our young people—confidence, a sense of hope, a successful future. But perhaps the greatest gift we can give them is a love for learning. A love for learning drives us to continually strive for understanding and can nurture a sense of hope and confidence as we arm ourselves with new knowledge that in turn can ensure a more successful future.

A love of learning probably won’t solve all problems. But it can have a deep impact on youth. What is that impact? And how do we instill such a sense of satisfaction in learning that young people crave more?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Minnesota is home to one of the world's largest Somali diaspora populations

By Jennifer Skuza

Minnesota has the nation's largest Somali American community, with census numbers placing the population at about 57,000, followed by Columbus (Ohio), San Diego, Seattle and Atlanta. Kenya hosts the largest number of Somali migrants (both refugees and nonrefugees) of any other country, according to UN estimates.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Transgender youth: Breaking down the challenges

By Judy Myers, Extension Educator — Children, Youth & Family ConsortiumExtension Center for Family Development

This post first appeared in Family Matters, the newsletter of the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Family Development.

Imagine that you are an adolescent who feels unsafe everywhere you turn — at home, at school, and in your community. This is the situation for many transgender youth who are at higher risks for homelessness, abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and suicide than other gender nonconforming young people.


What are the physical and mental health risks that transgender youth confront and how “big” of an issue is this?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why equity matters in youth development

By Kathryn Sharpe

As the demographic makeup of the U.S. undergoes a sea change of diversification, 4-H and other national historical legacy youth development organizations face a critical question: What will it take to stay relevant in the 21st Century?

This year, as part of the Northstar Youth Worker Fellowship, I undertook a research project to explore this question. My conclusion? We must work to create equity in our programs.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

5 ways to measure youth - adult connections


Informal social support networks with non-related adults are important resources for young people working through the good times and the difficulties of life. Positive connections to adult volunteers, staff and mentors result in positive outcomes for youth. But how can we measure this? I have suggestions for how to measure strong connections between youth and the caring adults in their lives, based on the benefits of  positive youth-adult connections:

Monday, October 10, 2016

Reflecting on my failure

By Mark Haugen

We've got a plan. It's a good plan. A tremendous plan! I don't mean to brag, but it is one of the finest. The need for this is clear. It's important for our organization, to me personally, and people say the change is needed. Their insights make the plan even better!  So why isn't my plan working out? Is it my fault? Am I failing as a leader because I'm afraid?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

To attract minority members, start by recruiting minority volunteers

By Joshua Rice

In Minnesota 4-H we've recently been doing a lot of thinking about recruiting first-generation participants -- those whose parents were never involved in 4-H. One question that tends to float to the top of the discussion is how to attract and engage minority populations. This led me to ponder, what are some innovative strategies that could attract first-generation minority youth into 4-H?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Running respectful youth programs during controversy

By Kyra Paitrick

This summer the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota has taken a stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which when built would convey thousands of gallons of crude oil across the Dakotas, Iowa and Illinois, across sovereign Indian nations. Standing Rock is a sovereign nation and argues that they should have been consulted prior to any approval of the pipeline. According to the National Congress of American Indians, “Self-government is essential if tribal communities are to continue to protect their unique cultures and identities. Tribes have the inherent power to govern all matters involving their members, as well as a range of issues in Indian Country.” The current issues with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Dakota Access Pipeline are a good example of how the tribe can exercise their sovereign rights and why these rights are so important to the tribes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

How to fail at storytelling

By Samantha Grant 

I will admit that I’m a data nerd. Even so, I might skim through an evaluation journal and read only the articles that are relevant to my work. But recently, I got the summer 2016 issue of New Directions for Evaluation and read it from cover to cover. I was completely sucked in. I have never before read an entire issue.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why youth programs matter for Somali American youth

By Joanna Tzenis 

The benefits youth reap in youth programs are well understood. High-quality programs provide enriching experiences that broaden their perspectives, improve their socialization, enhance their skills and support healthy identity development -- especially during adolescence. The specific benefit to Somali American youth is less well understood, because they are less likely than their peers to participate in organized youth programs. I would argue that it's important to engage them in youth programs, particularly here in Minnesota, home to the largest Somali population in the U.S.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Context means everything in youth work

By Joshua Kukowski 

I recently attended a 21st Century Community Learning Center summer conference in which the keynote speaker spoke about how context means everything in youth work, and yet we frequently overlook it when working with young people. The speaker's own context was amazing, inspiring, and tough to hear, yet compelling. It affirmed my own conviction that a young person's context is powerful, and that out-of-school-time programs have the power to tilt young people in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Considering Historical Trauma When Working with Native American Children and Families

By Mina Blyly-Strauss, Research assistant - Children, Youth & Family Consortium, Extension Center for Family Development

This post first appeared in Family Matters, the newsletter of the Extension Center for Family Development.

Image: Mina Blyly-Strauss
I came to my CYFC graduate assistant position as an educational professional whose early work was with Native American teenagers. This is a demographic group often noted for some of the largest educational and health disparities in the state of Minnesota. More recently, I have focused on early childhood as a critical time to interrupt cycles of recurring disparities and to start healthy developmental trajectories.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Is there a leadership gap?

By Brian McNeill

When I'm out working with community organizations, I hear this complaint from many local leaders: "There are no young people stepping forward to replace me on this committee!" They seem frustrated that they can't leave a community committee because there's no one to replace them. This made me wonder, is there really a leadership gap, and if so, why?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Youth: I think we all need a 'thank-you' speech


Do we pay enough attention to youth voice? During the busy summer months and as we wrap up our program year, youth voice is easy to neglect. I'd like to give voice in this blog to a young person - my daughter, Kati - as she reflects on the completion of high school, her involvement in youth programs, and the role of caring non-parental adults  in her success. She's a recent graduate of Fridley High School and the Minnesota 4-H program. She will soon be attending the University of Missouri and majoring in journalism.

I think we all need a 'Thank You' speech


The end of any major life commitment creates a moment to look back at past months or years and ask, "What have I done that has made me a better person than I was yesterday?  Even more importantly, what influenced how and why I did those things?"

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

GROW your coaching skills

By Nancy Hegland

During this past year, I have watched my three kids being coached by adults in a variety of settings. Whether it was sports, music or showing livestock, these coaches invested their knowledge in my children’s growth and development. This summer, I’m paying more attention to my children’s coaching than most mothers do because I’ve recently taken a course called Coaching for Excellence.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Talking with youth about terrorism

By Sara Langworthy

Newtown. San Bernardino. Charleston. And now Orlando.

In the wake of intense tragedies, these places have stopped being just cities. Their names have become grief-laden synonyms for terror and loss.

So, how should we talk to youth about terrorism and mass shootings?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What's a refugee? Who are the Karen?

By Jennifer Skuza

"Imagine being forced to flee your country in order to escape to safety. If you were lucky you had time to pack a bag. If not, you simply dropped everything and ran. Life as a refugee can be difficult to imagine. But, for nearly 20 million people around the world, it is a terrifying reality." (United Nations Refugee Agency).

World Refugee Day just happened on June 20, 2016.

I have have had opportunities to work with refugee communities throughout my career. Over the past few years I have been working with Karen communities in Minnesota. Many people aren't familiar with the Karen or how people come to be refugees. Here is some background.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Early sports specialization is incompatible with high-quality youth programming

By Margo Bowerman

I had the good fortune to grow up in an environment with a wide variety of things to do and plenty of free time. I loved competitive team sports, and as a student I played competitively through college and beyond. Today, though, many young people's time is monopolized by sports and for some, even the very young, it's only a single sport - even though the research says that's not good for them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Science is hard work and that makes it fun

By Rebecca Meyer 

Thinking of science as fun may bring youth to an activity, but they'll like it even more when they get to know more about the scientific process, challenges, and even the failures.

Effective science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education demands balancing fun, interest-building activities and attention to the authentic aptitudes and dispositions that prepare youth for professional careers. All too often we emphasize the fun-factor and minimize the notion that "science is hard." My colleague, Margo Bowerman, blogged about this recently: "I’m no good at science!"

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Let's talk about race -- It's important

By Jessica Pierson Russo

We need to talk to young people about race more - not less. A recent study suggests that minority and white children avoid talking about race. They learn this "color blind" approach from adults, and avoiding the issue only widens the divide.

Studies show that talking to young people about race is important to their development. Understanding one's own racial and ethnic identity is important to developing a positive social identity.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The key to quality youth development that keeps a kid coming back

By Karen Beranek

Recently families have been questioning the value of youth activities, as seen on the parent blogs and social media sites starting with "Why I don't pay for" and ending with: gymnastics, volleyball, band, basketball. Blogger Shad Martin has a good example with "Why I Don't Pay for Dance Anymore!"

Martin lists many good reasons why parents should involve their children in these learning experiences. But in my opinion, he has missed an important one - program quality.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Getting beyond graduation

By Amber Shanahan

Graduation is a joyous and proud occasion filled with anticipation of what's to come. But emotionally, it's a mixed bag -- anxiety, apprehension, grief, fear or sadness may live alongside relief, joy and delight.

One graduate's next steps and outlook can look quite different from another's and so can their attitudes about their future. Some may be thrilled to say goodbye to the comforts of home to explore parts unknown, but others may feel apprehensive about their new found freedom, and a few may have no plan in place at all -- causing feelings of unease, pressure and confusion.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

5 tips for continuous youth program improvement

By Betsy Olson

CC BY-SA 2.0, Katy Warner
Continuous improvement seems to be the new normal. Each year, funders, stakeholders and youth participants expect our programs to grow and strengthen, not to mention our own high expectations as youth workers. One tool in our tool box to help our programs continue to build and improve is interactive evaluation or feedback mechanisms.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

3 ways to help your volunteers and program staff facilitate inquiry

By Anne Stevenson

Imagine an after-school program in which second graders learn about chemical change by making pancakes. Or a club in which kids in fourth through sixth grades build a Rube Goldberg machine for a county competition. Or a group of teens re-engineering an underwater robot.

How do you, as the adult guiding the learning experience, facilitate inquiry to best engage them and challenge deeper thinking?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wants or needs? The role that young people can play in developing a country

By Joshua Rice

My colleague Molly Frendo and I visited Bangladesh last month to consult on how to improve agricultural training in that country. Our hosts in the Department of Youth Development asked us to identify youth empowerment needs in the agriculture sector and outline the resources and interventions needed to close gaps and steps for implementation.

Program development is an aspect of my job that I am passionate about. I enjoy identifying a need or missing element within a community and then constructing programs to address them. I follow a four-step process: identify, develop, facilitate and evaluate.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Help set the research agenda: What do we need to know about nature-based learning?

By Cathy Jordan

Fueled by Richard Louv’s popular book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, and supported by the organization Children & Nature Network, (which Louv and several others co-founded in 2006) a worldwide movement has been gaining traction to reconnect children to the natural environment. More and more research is being published suggesting that nature play and nature-based learning provide children with benefits across the age range and across diverse developmental areas including: physical health, mental health, learning, motor development, cognitive development, and social-emotional learning.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

2 myths about young people and college aspirations

A major political strategy to address educational disparities has been to raise the aspirations of young people with a low socioeconomic status (SES). Case in point: This entertaining video features a rapping FLOTUS encouraging youth to "go to college".


I don't dispute the core message -- that going to college is a way to discover one's intrinsic value and professional opportunities, and yes, young people should go to college. But two key assumptions implicit in this video (and in many U.S. initiatives to address educational inequities) are just plain wrong.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How to support SEL skills -- from programs that work

By Kate Walker

While we often talk about "bridging research and practice," too often that bridge is a one-way street aimed at getting practitioners to recognize and use the research being conducted. But if we want more research-based practice, we need to engage in more practice-based research. We need more research aimed at understanding effective practice from the practitioners' perspective, as they experience and enact it. We need research that is wholly committed to generating useful information that can inform and improve daily practice.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"I'm no good at science!"

By Margo Bowerman

This is one of the saddest statements I hear from young people. I can almost guarantee it’s not true. When I talk to them, they’ve done things in science that I didn’t do until much later, and they can explain it better than I!  So why don’t they see themselves as science learners?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How to turn optimism into measurable goals

By Samantha Grant

It’s well into February so chances are that your 2016 New Year’s resolutions are a thing of the past. 52% of respondents in a study by Richard Wiseman were confident in their ability to succeed when setting their resolutions, but 88% failed. That’s not a great statistic!

As an evaluator, I work with teams to set goals for their youth programs at the beginning of each program year.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Play and mentoring are a seriously good combination

By Joshua Kukowski

At the school my daughter will attend in a few years, recess is only 20 minutes long. I have fond school memories of conquering multiple snow hills during recess, and of wishing that I had more time for it. According to the National PTA, my school boy desire was a healthy one -- 20 minutes is not enough.

Today I am an educator working with multiple youth programs. Recently, while on a mentoring site visit with a partner organization, I witnessed two contrasting events:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What's the connection between youth development and protest?

By Kathryn Sharpe

Photo: Maricruz Lozano
On Wed. Jan. 20, just two days after we commemorated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, hundreds of middle school and high school students in the Twin Cities took part in a walkout called, “Mi Familia No/Not My Family”. They were protesting recent raids and deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeting Central American migrants, many of them families with children who came to the U.S. fleeing violence in their home countries. The remarkable aspect of this protest was that it was initiated and planned entirely by high school students, and they mobilized youth from every background and experience, both those directly impacted by this issue and allies.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

One step at a time to intentional program design

By Nancy Hegland

“You don’t climb mountains without a team, you don’t climb mountains without being fit, you don’t climb mountains without being prepared and you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards. And you never climb a mountain on accident – it has to be intentional”.  Mark Udall, former U.S. Senator from Colorado, now working with Outward Bound.

Turning the calendar to 2016 causes me to reflect on the past year and make efforts to do some things better and with more intentionality.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mentoring young people to lead

By Brian McNeill

Mentoring from a caring adult can make a huge difference to a young person’s development as a future leader. The lucky ones among us can point to a time when a piano teacher, someone in church, neighbor or teacher took the trouble to give us guidance and pass along some leadership skills. These “relational role models” are critical to developing leadership skills, particularly during adolescence.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The 10 essential elements of cross-age teaching

By Amber Shanahan

For more than 30 years, Youth Teaching Youth has been a prime example of a cross-age teaching program. In cross-age teaching, teens are not just assisting an adult teacher or informally sharing experiences,but facilitating an entire learning experience by teaching curriculum and fully managing a group of younger peers. Cross-age teaching can also enhance social and emotional learning for both teacher and learner.
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