It’s been a while
…since I’ve dug deep into my experience in youth development. Being an educator is hard these days; I think it always has been. Kids, parents, counselors, administrators, teachers face criticism every day. I was excited to share some time with a group of educators working to prepare young people for life.
Preparing for a workshop at Partnerships in Motion, the culminating event of a federal grant to STOP bullying in schools, was a pleasant excavation. My friend Cyndy Erickson recommended me to the planners as the expert in the field of youth-adult partnerships. Flattery will get you…
I have a lot to draw on from my years in 4-H Youth Development. The organization has a long history of involving youth as partners. Older kids help younger ones with their projects, lead group meetings, and finally grow up and volunteer to lead the 4-H groups of their children. It’s seamless; it’s expected and it works.
The Civil Rights movement of the mid-1960s was the impetus for extending 4-H to families of color in the northern states. It required the Land Grant System, created by Abraham Lincoln to extend 4-H to kids in cities and small towns, and the USDA provided funding for staff to do the work. That’s where I came in.
At ISU Extension I worked with kids who weren’t from traditional 4-H audiences. They didn’t think it was for them, and it wasn’t. There was a separate 4-H organization for Black kids in the south, established around the 1890 Land Grant Colleges, but not in Iowa. Extending Ithe 4-H program to those kids was hard because of its long history of just being for farm kids. Indeed, there’s still a belief among many that 4-H is just for farm kids. In the 1970s our tee shirts said, “4-H ain’t all cows and cooking.” But affirmative action didn’t last even a generation. By 1989, the only way to grow programs was through special funding.
So I started writing grants, negotiating contracts and agreements with other organizations. We did the hard work of collaborating with schools and other organizations. Cyndy was a big part of that work, as she was developing the SUCCESS program in Des Moines Schools then.
Through it all we wove the strands of positive youth development theory, and best practice. Our teams worked hard to involve our audiences in making the decisions that shaped the programs. We developed weekly family nights where we taught the kids cooking and child care skills so they could watch their younger brothers and sisters while their parents learned parenting skills.
We put experiential education to the test, for ourselves. Learning by creating new ways of reaching kids and their parents. Finding out what worked and what didn’t.
So, I drew on that experience to plan my workshop at Partnerships in Motion. I asked the teachers and school administrators and counselors to envision their students as the subjects, the actors in the drama of their education, rather than the recipients. I shared H. Stephen Glenn’s “Mistaken Goals” with them. And melded those mistaken goals with the Circle of Courage from Reclaiming Youth at Risk—Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.
Then we brainstormed how they can satisfy all those needs so kids don’t have to work for mistaken goals. We talked about developing systems that keep kids involved in the peer-to-peer and mentoring work they do, conversations and lessons they’ve implemented over the last five years. In the long term, this kind of work increases resilience of young people, making them resistant to bullying and violence.
Being an educator is hard these days; it was probably always hard. But change happens so fast, and everyone from parents to legislatures attack the teaching profession every day. I was really excited to be able to share some time with a group of educators who are working to prepare young people for life.