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Journaling as self-care for youth

By Sarah Odendahl In many ways, COVID-19 has become the central factor in our lives; the virus is defining how and where we work and go to school, how we shop and celebrate special events, and what activities we do in our free time. We hear about COVID-19 each day on the news, see commercials and billboards about prevention, and make daily choices about how best to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Adolescence during the pandemic While COVID-19 might be the single biggest stressor in adult lives, for youth, especially teens, it is just one of many challenges they face. Adolescence is a time of significant change  in physical bodies, brain structure and function, and social interaction. Teens are molding their identities, creating their value systems, and planning for their futures. With or without the pandemic, questions regarding college, careers, romantic relationships, and how they interact with the world around them are ever-present. Many teens need extra guidance and tools to
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How youth can save the planet (and how adults can support them!)

By Dylan Kelly Imagine for a moment being 16 years old and reading the latest climate change article shared around social media . How would you feel? What thoughts would you have about your future, society, and your place in it? Would you feel anxiety? Would you be motivated to take action? Climate change and its impacts are a major concern for young people. A recent survey of students at one Maine high school found that 58% think about climate change daily and 48% want to engage in organized environmental action around the issue. Youth are thinking about what climate change means for their future and they want to be change agents. So what is our role as youth workers in supporting their goals? Environmental action: How change happens Environmental action involves deliberating, planning, implementing and reflecting on a project or action to achieve a defined environmental outcome. The focus is not on youth changing individual behaviors (e.g. turning the lights off when leaving a room

Help young people to see their infinite possibilities

By Joanna Tzenis Marwa’s hopes to see more people with her identity in the future as leaders. “You can’t be what you can’t see” -- Children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman These words are a rallying cry for those of us who are fighting to build equitable opportunities for people of all races, genders, abilities, sexual orientation and identities. What does research say about representation and its impact on youths’ aspirations? How can youth programs incorporate what research says to support youth in the pursuit of their aspirations?  Young people's aspirations are influenced by what they see and experience in their world, but this process often happens subconsciously . The main characters of storybooks, movies , and curricula , political leaders , and those in high-powered careers are most frequently white males. So young people subconsciously asso

Communicating with stakeholders when the world is upside down

By  Samantha Grant  and  Erin Kelly-Collins We are many months into what we affectionately call pandemic programming. Youth workers are getting smarter about how we offer learning opportunities to youth. It’s been amazing to watch our colleagues innovate. But amid all the change, we can forget to clue our financial stakeholders into how and why our programs are changing.   What is a financial stakeholder? Financial stakeholders are people who have a stake in your program because they provide financial support. In 4-H, Extension committees and county commissioners are our primary financial stakeholders. Yours might be grant funders or other program supporters. These stakeholders want to ensure their investment is having an impact.  Do you know what your stakeholders value?  We developed a stakeholder analysis tool that we use regularly. It’s also a key feature in our staff development curriculum about reporting. This simple tool has transformed how we craft all sorts of reports, but mo

"I'm bored!"

By Jeremy Freeman Every parent hears this refrain. Now that cold weather is setting in, we are all spending more time together indoors and you are probably hearing it a lot more. "I'm bored." In our household of seven, there are days when the kids play endlessly together, sparking new ideas for each other into the evolving activity that lives somewhere between a game, a theatrical play and a wrestling match. Then there are other days when a single glance from a sibling produces disdain and the "boreds." I picture the boreds as small creatures covered in bumps, popping out of my children's mouths like corn from a hot kettle. The Band-Aid solution for boredom is new activities. "Find a new toy! Play a new game! Go outside!," parents cry, as the wind howls and we stay inside, wearing flannel pajamas and holding cups of tea. If the Band-Aid fails to work, the children may return to their screens. The boreds fall back for a time, but rear their ugly hea

The magic of civic ecology

I first felt the leap from learning to magic in 2015. At that time, I was working at the River Bend Nature Center and the nearby Cannon River STEM School . I was leading fourth graders along a river.  That year, one of my programs was working with the STEM school fourth graders teaching about water quality. Every day, I took a different group of three youth down to the Straight River to measure the turbidity of the water. We collected the data and sent it off to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as part of the Citizen Water Monitoring program.  Together, the students and teachers decided to end the year with a Straight River Stewardship Day. On that day, I saw teams of fourth grade stewards working together to clean litter from the riverbanks. I watched watershed professionals lead groups of youth and adults to clean leaves and debris from stormwater catch basins. I heard fourth graders explain to parents how they do turbidity testing and where the data is sent. I appreciated tha

Pivot, but build community, too

By Rebecca Meyer Fostering prosocial, positive connections is critically important for our well-being. It's a skill that we as humans develop over time. Starting as children, we meet, navigate experiences together, form relationships and participate in our communities. Right now, young people are missing out on chances to do that. As youth workers, we can create opportunities for youth to build relationships. But we must be intentional and thoughtful in how we build them into our programming. As we journey through new ways of being, pivot to online learning and innovate our programs, we must continue to hold the importance of relationships in high regard. Building understanding and skill in disciplines like science, where I primarily work, involves teaching individuals. It also involves cultivating their connections with others they can turn to with questions or to grow their interest. Historically, individual skills building has been our focus in youth programs. Community buildi