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Why do adult volunteers need cultural competency?

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molly-frendo.jpg"Our community isn't really that diverse. When there are so many important skills for me to learn, why should I focus on diversity?" I've often heard this question as I've worked with adult volunteers in youth development roles.

So often, diversity is reduced to what we can see: race, gender, age, and perhaps ability. But culture is so much more than what we can see -- it includes the experiences, beliefs, and values that give us membership to a certain group.

Working as a team can be the biggest challenge of all

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hui-hui-wang.jpgWhat did young people on the Engineering Design Challenge teams this past year learn from the experience? Notably, one main takeaway for youth was that building a team can be as challenging as building a Rube Goldberg design.

At the end of the first season of our engineering design challenge recently, we asked each member of the 22 teams about the experience. What did they learn? What obstacles did they overcome as they built their Rube Goldberg Machine together?

Youth voice requires online access, literacy

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trudy-dunham.jpg2014 marks both the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the creation of the World Wide Web. It wouldn't have occurred to me to connect these two transformational events, but it occurred to Urs Gasser, and I'm glad it did. He reminds us that that the world wide web is a major tool for young people to access and exercise their rights. And that youth voice, their participation in discussions on the key issues of today, is vital.

Gasser acknowledges that even after 25 years, disparities remain in the well-being of children and youth: their ability to exercise their rights, and in their online access and network literacy. These disparities place our children at risk, as well as the health and well-being of our society overall.

Cross-age teaching has social and emotional benefits

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amber-shanahan.jpgTeens and younger youth both benefit from cross-age teaching. In fact, it may be the most effective way to provide opportunities for positive youth development and encourage youth to avoid delinquent behaviors. Younger children respond enthusiastically to teen behavior modeling, so rapport is established very quickly.

Our center runs the 4-H Youth Teaching Youth program (4-H YTY) in four Minnesota counties. The model includes strong partnerships between county-based 4-H programs and local schools. During the 2013-2014 school year, our staff trained 761 teen teachers, and they in turn taught the 4-H YTY curricula to nearly 10,000 elementary-aged youth in greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area school districts, making it one of the largest 4-H projects in Minnesota.


nancy-hegland.jpgHigh-quality youth development programs rely on staff and volunteers to deliver programs that meet an identified need in the community. To do their work well, youth workers need high-quality professional development. But options are sometimes limited by funding, time and availability. We need to overcome these obstacles to ensure that youth workers get the professional development they need to keep programs valuable to the communities they serve.

Research has shown that it pays off in the form of:

Data injection could be a shot in the arm for your program

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betsy-olson.jpgEven the strongest youth program can stagnate. The initial energy can wane over time, leaving you as a program leader wondering why. Data about your program may offer some insights and solutions for re-energizing.

Demographic data and the population characteristics often drive initial program design and creation. Updating our understanding of these data can help us to reinvigorate a program by showing the continued relevance of the program to the community we serve, or to adjust the program by seeing the changed landscape.

Inquiry-based learning for volunteer-led youth programs

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josh-rice.jpgDo you learn and remember better when somebody tells you the answer, or when you work through the problem yourself? Chances are you will say "when I figure it out myself". This is the crux of inquiry-based learning, and it's one of the things that 4-H does best.

From the time a 4-H member selects a project area until its completion, 4-H youth are immersed in solving problems hands-on. As you may know, the 4-H program is delivered primarily by volunteers using the resources of a land-grant institution. It's up to us as program leaders to make it possible for volunteers to help young people do hands-on learning in an effective way.

Slow down and see cultural resilience

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margo-herman.jpg"Cultural resiliency is what we call the competencies acquired through diverse life experiences, which then become the foundation from which students can develop essential 21st century skills: innovation, adaptability, critical analysis, cross-cultural communication, and teamwork." -- E3 - Education, Excellence, Equity

This quote set the context for our Oct. 2 public symposium on social and emotional learning Dr. JuanCarlos Arauz of E3 spent two days with us challenging our thinking about SEL, sharing his talent and his research that bridges academic assessment with culturally responsive teaching.

When times are bad

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Nicole-Pokorney.jpgThis blog post isn't going to be research-filled or one of great insight and wisdom, but one that comes from my heart. As I sit to write this week, I am reminded that ten years ago, a student I worked with passed away in a sudden accident. He was a senior in high school. I was six years into full-time youth ministry and had been in the youth development field for over ten years. I was on a bus full of youth headed back to the church from a service project when I received the call. Nothing had prepared me for having to break the news to the high school students on the bus. When we arrived at the church, youth had started to gather and within two hours, over 200 youth congregated in the basement of the church.

WeConnect: A global youth citizenship curriculum

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Jennifer-Skuza.jpgCitizenship is a concept commonly used in the field of youth development. It typically refers to young people being positively engaged in their communities. But what happens when you add global to citizenship?

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