4-H Matters: May 2021
Director’s Message: Thriving Science
Recent research into how youth thrive is enlightening as we explore pathways for our Idaho youth to succeed. While specific to 4-H youth development programming, the research has applications to all youth engaged in out-of-school time programs.
Mary Arnold, Ph.D., from Oregon State University, developed a model which shows how youth thrive. Thriving is defined as "a forward, purposeful motion towards achieving one's full potential." The concept of youth thriving is centered on the youth's social, emotional and cognitive learning.
The model begins with a comprehensive developmental context: the program or setting in which engaged youth develop a spark for learning. This spark empowers youth to be actively involved in choosing the subject and mastering skills that propel them forward in their learning process. This spark may stem from a hobby, a 4-H project or an activity. Youth are motivated to learn because activities interest them. They have a chance to stretch their skills and abilities and internalize a sense of mastery or competence.
Other aspects of the developmental context in which youth engage and build their skills to thrive include a sense of belonging. Being part of a group or an affiliation to an organization helps youth identify with positive attributes of that group. Strong relationships are also one of the keys to building a thriving trajectory for the youth. These relationships may be with an out-of-school-time provider, a 4-H volunteer or a scout leader. Adults in positive youth-adult relationships serve as role models for the youth and serve as a source of information to strengthen the thriving pathway for the youth. The young person experiences emotional and practical support from adults, experiences guidance from adults, and builds knowledge of adults and peers. The last foundational piece of the developmental context for youth thriving is engagement. Youth in positions of responsibility and leadership are engaged in meaningful decision-making and develop a sense of belonging or ownership.
Youth who are thriving exhibit an openness to challenge and discovery. They continue to learn and are excited to build their knowledge. They are socially competent, making and keeping friends, and form connections with others. Thriving youth set high personal standards and practice personal responsibility. These youth have a strong sense of contribution, engaging in the community through thought, practice and action. They become leaders in our communities.
Youth that thrive have a positive future. They have academic or vocational success. They practice civic engagement. They have a future of economic stability and are highly employable. Their wellbeing and long-term happiness are ensured.
How do we, who are involved with youth development at the local level, ensure that our youth thrive? The basic step is helping the youth build a passionate spark, provide them with the opportunity to belong, build positive relationships with them, and engage them in their leadership and knowledge path.
Mobile Makerspaces Launch Statewide
A partnership between University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development and the Idaho Out-of-School Network, with help from the Idaho STEM Action Center, Idaho State Department of Education, Idaho Division of Career and Technical Education, Gizmo-CDA and private partners, is sending mobile makerspaces to educators and organizations across Idaho.
Think Make Create (TMC) Labs provide a mobile platform to engage youth with direct STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning and career exposure through makerspace and tinkering activities in afterschool and out-of-school programs. The goal is to bring robust, hands-on STEM tools and curricula to youth in rural and underserved communities across the state.
“The hands-on, flexible nature of these new mobile makerspaces allows kids to get in there and explore,” said Claire Sponseller, UI Extension 4-H area educator. “We really want kids to experience what it means to play and tinker and experiment and fail and try again, and the Think Make Create Labs will create great opportunities for kids to get excited and test out and see what STEM is all about.”
The earlier youth are introduced to STEM, the more they understand and return to those subjects and often careers, studies show. STEM education instills creative problem-solving techniques and inspires creativity, inquisitive thinking and teamwork. By offering a sustainable STEM learning environment and quality STEM education, we can help reduce the achievement gap within our youth, provide STEM educational support for schools and ensure a solid future for qualified workers in STEM careers.
With six labs available in spring 2021 and another six launched by fall 2021, TMC Labs estimate a reach of over 8,000 youth within the first year. Families may see a TMC Lab and activities at community events, summer enrichment programs, 4-H workshops or even at schools. Each lab host takes part in professional development training, impact reporting, and work to expand local community engagement and support in STEM learning through TMC Labs and programs.
The Power of Partnership
The project is the Idaho STEM EcosySTEM’s first official initiative. According to STEM Action Center interim executive director Kaitlin Maguire, the project sprang from a chance encounter between Idaho Out-of-School Network director Anna Almerico and Sponseller at the group’s first convening in January 2020.
“It’s exciting to see how a network like the Idaho STEM EcosySTEM can be so powerful,” Maguire said. “In this instance, we had a couple people who just happened to be sitting next to each other at a conference talking about ideas and they came up with one that will benefit students across the state. And we have a variety of partners in the network who realized the value of the project and were able to help make their vision a reality.”
The Idaho STEM EcosySTEM is a network of partners from pre-K-12 and higher education, out-of-school educators, business and industry, nonprofits, state agencies and legislators. (The Idaho STEM Action Center serves as the backbone organization.) It works to build awareness of and ensure equitable access to STEM education opportunities and careers. It also seeks to align STEM education with Idaho’s current and future workforce needs, create successful metrics for STEM education and programming, and build momentum for STEM within the state and nationally.
Maguire said STEM knowledge and skills are important to Idaho’s future, because they're needed for critical and creative thinking, problem solving, innovation and collaboration.
“Nineteen of Idaho’s 20 hot jobs through 2026 require STEM skills, and STEM jobs pay about twice as much as non-STEM jobs,” she said. “Among Idaho parents who were surveyed, 99% believe STEM skills will play an important role in the future, and within a decade 90% of jobs will require digital literacy.”
Idaho’s 4-H Professionals Learn from 4-H Thriving Model
In April 2021, 43 University of Idaho Extension 4-H professionals attended one or more webinars in a series of three presentations led by Mary Arnold on positive youth development and the 4-H Thriving Model. Arnold designed the webinars to introduce 4-H professionals to the 4-H Thriving Model, the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) that is the body of evidence supporting the model, and the connection between transformative learning, thriving and opportunity for all youth.
Introduction to the 4-H Thriving Model
How does 4-H work its magic? This webinar presented an overview of the 4-H Thriving Model, which describes the process of positive youth development (PYD) in 4-H programs. Participants learned about the model’s background and purpose, and the testing that has been done on the model. The three components of the model are: (1) Creating effective developmental contexts for youth; (2) promoting youth thriving; and (3) achieving PYD outcomes. Participants learned how PYD is expressed in the social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral development of youth, also known as “thriving.”
Introduction to the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD)
What is the science behind the magic? The science of learning and development (SoLD) is the body of research evidence that supports the field of positive youth development. Participants in this webinar learned about the eight key findings of learning and development and recommended best practices for a “whole child” approach to education. The webinar connected SoLD principles to the 4-H Thriving Model so participants understand how these principles are an intentional part of high-quality 4-H youth programs. A special emphasis is placed on the science of adolescence, with particular emphasis on brain development and stress.
Intentional 4-H Practice: Thrive Six Principles for Putting PYD into Action in 4-H
How do we practice the magic? The third webinar in the series focused on how learning in 4-H is transformative for youth. Using common 4-H program settings such as camp, fair and leadership events, webinar participants developed a better understanding of how practice aligns with science to promote youth thriving. The webinar also introduced six key principles for ensuring youth thrive in 4-H. This webinar, designed to help 4-H professionals translate the 4-H Thriving Model into practice, presented six key principles for effective program development:
- 4-H programs are developed based on the science of positive youth development
- 4-H promotes learning that is life changing for youth
- 4-H emphasizes robust equity to ensure opportunity for all
- 4-H prioritizes youth voice, leadership and civic engagement
- 4-H facilitates the creation of pathways for youth leading to actionable post-secondary plans
- 4-H invests in professional and volunteer capacity building to ensure high quality 4-H programs
Arnold is a professor in human development and family sciences and a 4-H youth development specialist at Oregon State University. Arnold’s work focuses on translating the science of youth development into best practices in youth development programs. Since 2013 she has worked to develop a theoretical model of change for the 4-H program based on current developmental science. Arnold is currently on special assignment as the director of Youth Development Research and Practice with National 4-H Council.
Supporting Volunteers During a Pandemic
In the face of the pandemic, 4-H professionals rapidly adopted online tools to meet the needs of 4-H volunteers to continue to lead University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development programs. Learn more: Creating Resiliency impact (PDF).