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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 that w…
Recent posts

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 building h…

Building our own resilience during tough times

All of us have had to make adjustments to our personal and work lives in the past few months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It doesn’t seem like the normal we knew is going to come back anytime soon. We have all experienced some form of ambiguous loss in the past months and this type of loss can have negative effects on people's mental and physical health.

There are actions we can take as youth workers that we can role model to the youth in our programs so that we all emerge stronger, more resilient and better able to face future challenges. The Center for Creative Leadership states three practices to strengthen resilience.

Personal energy management. Manage your own resistance. “Show up,” give your best, and relinquish attachment to the outcome. Stay in the present.Shifting your lenses. Take charge of how you think about adversity. Understand your beliefs about the situation and choose your response. Exercise compassion for yourself and others.Sense of purpose. Develop a “perso…

Minneapolis youth reflect on George Floyd and racism in their 4-H meeting

Youth programs are designed to be safe spaces that honor young people's identities and are centered around their voices.

In this blog post, I feature (with permission) the voices of seven 4-H youth who identify as Black, Somali, and Muslim and share their reflections after the killing of George Floyd -- a trajedy that occurred just a few miles from their homes. Youth dedicated a virtual 4-H club meeting to this topic. Here is what they said.

What happened to George Floyd was not right I’m confused. Why were there so many police for just a bad check? They could have just booked him and put him in jail. But he had to put his knee on his neck. Even if it’s fake, George Floyd was listening to the police officer and doing everything he was told to do. They told him to sit down, he’d sit down. “Stand up;” he’d stand up. . . Even if you’re guilty, the police are not supposed to treat you like that. But it's not the first time. Now people are realizing.  They recognize racismWhy are t…

Keeping youth programs accessible to all in a virtual learning world

What makes a virtual youth program accessible to people with disabilities? Many of us are good at making physical spaces accessible, but many forget, or don't know, that virtual programs also take special considerations to ensure they are accessible to all.
When planning virtual programs, we must keep those with disabilities at the front of our minds. Having a truly accessible virtual program takes some thought at every stage of planning. What is accessible? According to the ADA Compliance for Online Course Design, accessible means that a learning opportunity is equally available, enjoyable and of the same quality for those with a disability as for those without a disability, without special accomodation.  3 time frames Accessibility isn't "one and done." For youth program planning, there are three important time frames: ·Planning. Share with participants beforehand how you will make the program accessible to them. It makes youth and their families feel welcome and gives…

An open letter to my fellow white folks

By Kathryn Sharpe

Dear fellow white folks,

There are some things that we need to talk about amongst ourselves right now, without leaning on our black, indigenous, or people or color (BIPOC) friends or colleagues. (To my BIPOC colleagues, I honor you and recognize that for too long we have asked you to carry the load not only of racism and oppression, but also of educating us and challenging our organizations to evolve.)

As a white person, I'm wrestling with how to address the deep wounds of racism and structural injustice. They have always existed, but recently have been exposed by George Floyd's killing by police and the resulting protests and uprisings worldwide. I know I'm not alone in asking, “What can I do to be anti-racist? How do I grapple with this as a youth worker? What do I do when I have no idea what to do?”

I believe that one critical thing those of us born into the dominant culture can do now is learn to be uncomfortable. We are accustomed to the world telling us…

We can promote healing and resilience for traumatized youth

By Melissa Persing

Childhood traumas can have serious repercussions. The ground-breaking CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study revealed that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in young children harm the structure and function of the brain, change how a person responds to stress and raise the risk for chronic disease as an adult.

This study identified 10 such early traumas:Physical, sexual and verbal abusePhysical and emotional neglectA family members who is:Depressed or diagnosed with other mental illnessAddicted to alcohol or another substanceIn prisonWitnessing a mother being abusedLosing a parent to separation, divorce or other reasons
ACEs are common. Of the 17,000 people in the original study, nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults had had at least one. Subsequent studies measured additional ACEs and took into account protective factors, historical trauma and epigenetics. Comparable results were found in studies conducted at least once in 47 states and Washington, D.C.