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.
Context is important for youth workers as they design and launch programs. I work with the Minnesota 4-H State Ambassadors, which is entering its forty-eighth year of service and learning. Recently, the ambassadors and I met with the founder of the program. What a great opportunity! How often do you get a chance to visit with the founder of the programs you work with? The context she provided was amazing, inspiring, and further motivated us to excel. She said back then, there was an inherent demand for this program, which she recognized, but it was too edgy for program leaders to accept at first. Context was against her, but she persisted and insisted, and eventually prevailed. The program has provided leadership opportunities to youth and benefits to the program itself for nearly half a century.
In service-learning projects or programs, there are many layers to consider to make them truly impactful. This context is essential, otherwise the service may be less than altruistic and, in some cases, cause actual harm. True service and service-learning can lead to mutual benefits and impactful work. Evaluating context from a provider and a recipient’s point of view is the first step -- the priority should be to serve recipients, not ourselves.
Context is essential when working with tribal youth. At a recent planning meeting for Indian Country, we spent the better part of two days taking steps forward while also looking backward at history. The context of working with American Indians is complex, and requires a significant level of understanding of tribal sovereignty. In this setting, a lack of understanding of context can sink the partnership.
Context is important when when exploring partnerships. I offer these questions to consider when meeting with new partners: Why are we meeting now and not previously? Within our organization, how did we get to where we are now?
How do you take context into account? How do you explore it in your partnerships, and with new audiences? How do you calibrate yourself with historic or innovative programs?
-- Joshua Kukowski, 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.