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February 2011 Archives

Don't let borders get in the way of learning


Thumbnail image for Jennifer-Skuza.jpgCultural education is an important part of preparing youth to thrive in a global world. Today's youth have greater opportunities for interactions with people from different cultural backgrounds and world views than previous generations have had. These opportunities might be seen as obstacles to effective interaction and learning if youth are not equipped with the cultural abilities to bridge these differences and reap the tremendous value rooted in intercultural interactions.

The nonformal learning environments found in many youth programs are ideal places to nurture this cultural learning. Unbound by the rules and expectations faced by schools, they have the potential to be relaxed enough so that youth feel comfortable sharing personal experiences and challenging their own and others' thinking.

Who can assess the quality of a youth program?


Thumbnail image for Samantha-Grant.jpgCan youth and volunteers effectively assess program quality?
Does it matter if adult volunteers or 4-H staff are paired with youth to complete assessments?

Early results from our Minnesota 4-H Quality Improvement Study suggest that youth and volunteers can indeed assess quality and can work with local 4-H clubs to improve their programs. We have also learned that, for the most part, whether youth are paired with adult volunteers or staff made little difference.

Putting the youth programs "if" to bed


Deborah-Moore.jpgIf every grant writer, article author and researcher could commit to one simple action that would create a new perception about youth programs in our field, perhaps it would be to put the "if" to bed. By "if" of course, I mean the question of whether or not youth programs make a difference in the lives of young people. Today I firmly and proudly declare that they do and that I am done stating why I know this to be true. I hope this declarative choice of language will spread across our youth development conversations like the tea party in the November elections.

Here is what got me thinking - in the last few months, I have been immersed in another round of literature reviews for the article that I never quite seem to finish when suddenly -- the "if" became visible to me. Pull out two or three articles from writers and researchers in our field and you will see what I mean. Each article takes up precious column space going through the litany of research that shows youth programs can have positive effect on young people and their development. Why do we feel the need to keep saying it?

Do outcome evaluations put young people down?


Pamela-Nippolt.jpgIn the winter issue of New Directions for Evaluation, Sarah Zeller-Berkman, director of the Beacons National Strategy Initiative, argues that youth development evaluations reinforce the "status quo" for young people in the United States. She suggests that Western society systematically excludes young people, and that the designs for outcome evaluations play a role in that exclusion. Evaluation studies are largely designed based on assumptions that youth are incomplete and "less than" adults. We do this, she contends, by focusing on individual youth outcomes and ignoring the differences that youth make when they engage with adults, in organizations, and in communities.

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