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Transforming traditional youth programs for today

By Josey Landrieu

4-H is changing. A couple of weeks ago at our annual staff development conference, the theme was "Building on traditions and inviting transformation." A few short months from now, we will host the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents (NAE4-HA) National Conference, where the theme will be "Tradition and Transformation".

Do you see a pattern? Transformation! Tradition has been the foundation to the 4-H educational model. The model includes youth-adult partnerships, the development of 21st century skills and a pathway to higher education. Today we are transforming our traditions for the 21st century.

How do we go about this? How do we make sure transformation feels right at home now that we've invited her in? My mom used to say "a good education starts at home." I would add that transformation starts at home, too.

Two recent experiences made me reflect on how both our staff and our programs are being transformed. I have been part of a Shared Learning Diversity and Inclusion Cohort, and in our most recent gathering, we looked at intercultural guidelines and skills that can be useful when trying to be transformative from within and with communities. These skills include things like:
  • staying curious
  • listening
  • asking clarifying questions
  • being open to new ideas and perspectives
  • authenticity
  • mindfulness
  • observation
  • empathy
  • listening to internal messages
  • giving feedback
  • acknowledging failure
  • acknowledging not knowing
  • mutual adaptation

Our group worked through practice dilemmas that we face in our diversity and inclusion work. We used intercultural skills to address the dilemma at hand and to learn from it. It was such a rich and empowering experience. For example, one county program is explore ways to engage the Latino community working on dairy farms in their region.

This cohort example demonstrates how transformation is happening among our staff and we want to continue the process throughout the organization so our programs mirror the transformative nature of our world. We also wish for all young people to take part in programs where they transform themselves and their communities for the better.

Another example is from our urban 4-H program. Take a look at how it is being transformed by African culture. Minnesota's population is diversifying rapidly. A significant number of Minnesota 4-H members are new African immigrants. We are not letting go of what traditions have given us but we are transforming the educational experiences we offer to suit the young people living in our communities today.

Have you used intercultural guidelines and skills to transform traditions? How could we use them to transform youth development into the 21st century? What diversity and inclusion practices have help you to transform youth programs? Share your examples with me and let's learn together!

-- Josey Landrieu, former assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

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  1. Josey, thank you for this wonderful blog entry. I think that some of the main intercultural skills I find myself using are staying curious and asking clarifying questions--I find that when working with diverse groups, I have to first of all be humble and ask questions so that I can learn. I only know about what someone needs if I ask, and I can get myself in trouble if I make assumptions. An example is when we were doing a gardening and cooking class when Ramadan started, and I asked the youth about how they wanted to approach it. I would have assumed they would not want to cook, but they decided they wanted to cook but would bring the food home to break the fast with their families after sundown. I keep learning and being surprised!

  2. Kathryn,
    Thank you for your comment and reflection. You bring up a great point, being surprised and learning go hand in hand. It's a good way to take new insights and perspectives into consideration.
    Catching ourselves when we make assumptions is so important in this work! It's part of the process right? But we need to be able to put them aside and ask questions, stay curious, and observe what's in front of us. Thanks for sharing your example from youth in your programs.

  3. Hi Josey,
    Thanks for your blog entry. The clip that you presented gave a nice picture of why intercultural skills are important by presenting both the positive and negative sides. I think sometimes we will chalk these skills up to just having better communication skills, but the list you showed pushed us to see that it's really about so much more. I'm especially struck by the skills of authenticity and acknowledging failure. To me these force us to leave our comfort zone and be willing to learn together. Have you seen that in your youth programs? I know that in my programs when youth are willing to try new things and new ways of acting, we have had some of the most inclusive environments and also some of the greatest learning.

  4. Krista LautenschlagerMay 5, 2014 at 6:52 AM

    Great blog post. Having worked with diverse groups in the past and working with other groups in the future. I always need to remember to stay curious and listen. The groups I have worked with have been willing to work with me, once I have proven to them that I am willing to listen and am open to transforming our traditional 4-H program into something that works for both of us. I have watched myself transform over the few years I have worked in Extension, into someone who is more mindful of the different groups in my county and State. Seeing that the traditional 4-H program may not fit every group, but different and new pieces of 4-H may be more fitting to these groups. I have also had to practice that when introducing 4-H into a community, the same technique will not work for everyone. I must first think about the group and what will be most appealing for them.

  5. Sam,
    Thank you for your comment and yes, I think we do often times think of having good communication skills as good enough for work across differences. From our experiences and as highlighted in the video and the list we know it takes much more than that...and I agree with you that those experiences that take us (and partners, youth, volunteers, etc.) out of our comfort zone are the ones where most of the learning can take place.
    I think when we do work across different settings; either with a community or in a new setting we are put in situations that allow for the learning to take place and these skills to develop. Just as we experience this youth can experience it as well. I'm thinking of young people who are out of their comfort zone on a daily basis (often times as a survival mechanism) and how much they learn and gain just by having the experience. All young people should be able to have such experiences.

  6. Krista, I appreciate your comment so very much. Thank you for sharing how you have gained some of these skills and have you have transformed the way you work with communities that are under-represented in programs.
    What made you realize that the same way of introducing 4-H to communities/parents/partners doesn't work for all stakeholders? What did you chance as a result? Do you any examples you could share here? I would love to learn more from your experiences in the Willmar area.

  7. Hello Josey,
    Thank you for beginning a discussion about the need to honor our traditions and to be mindful of needed transformations in order to keep 4-H and other youth programs relevant to our current populations in our communities. This is a challenge because we currently have many members who are passionate about the traditions in 4-H but may only promote 4-H traditional programming and not the broader opportunities in 4-H that may be relevant to a larger, more diverse audience in our communities today.
    4-H offers a wide array of opportunities for youth with varying interests and backgrounds. The challenge is communicating the diversity of those opportunities to those audiences which do not have any history wit us as a youth development organization.
    4-H and other youth organizations need to scan their communities to see who lives there, what their needs are, and then offer relevant, culturally sensitive programming to meet those needs. This takes some intentional lime. Your video clip highlighted the importance of using intercultural skills to bring in new clients and to build trust. This is how we increase the reputation for being responsive to the needs of the young people living in our communities.
    We have some awesome traditions in 4-H and we need to keep those and share them with newcomers. We also need to open the door further to welcome new audiences of youth who will help us transform into being an increasingly relevant youth organization for ALL young people.

  8. Ann,
    Thank you for joining the conversation here on the blog. I think building trust and sharing our program traditions and opportunities with all communities will be crucial to any youth organization today. And yes, intercultural skills, time, and authentic engagement are all needed for the relationships to flourish and the trust to be developed.
    I agree with you as well on the great traditions that the 4-H program has to offer communities. It's sort of a "best kept" secret; except that we need to have it not be a secret any longer. Once people really see what the program model is about they'll realize how relevant and meaningful it can be in the lives of youth.

  9. Krista LautenschlagerMay 9, 2014 at 6:40 AM

    I think my “AHA” moment came when I met with a group that had a lot of partners and stakeholders in my community, I came in and introduced 4-H as I always do, stating the different clubs we have some of the opportunities we offer and explaining our work around youth development. I had a gentlemen in the group tell me flat out, well your group is just not for me then. I offered to meet with him afterwards, as I knew he worked with youth and I wanted to know why he didn’t think it would be a right fit. After talking with him I realized that I did not hit the key points he wanted to hear, which in his case was robotics and technology. I had included the word STEM when talking about our program, but didn’t bring out programs around that. This moment made me realize that when I go into certain meetings I need to think about the group I am presenting to. What is their culture? What will make them think of 4-H in the future for programming? What programs that I bring up, do I need to explain into further depth, ie. STEM.

  10. Krista,
    You bring up a really important point around communication and intercultural skills. Especially when working with communities who are not very familiar with our work it's key to spend the extra time getting to the common terms, ideas, goals that can then help us bridge our work with theirs. Often times we are talking about the same things but calling them by different names. You did the right thing when offering to meet with him afterwards so you could find common ground. Thanks again for your comment and discussion.