Courtney Johnson (left), Becci Rasmussen (center) and Jennifer Alger were three of six U of M Extension youth staff from across the state who received the Associate Dean’s Award for Courage and Innovation. They are leading the way in changing youth programs in Warba, Grand Rapids, Deer River and Nashwauk.

Courtney Johnson (left), Becci Rasmussen (center) and Jennifer Alger were three of six U of M Extension youth staff from across the state who received the Associate Dean’s Award for Courage and Innovation. They are leading the way in changing youth programs in Warba, Grand Rapids, Deer River and Nashwauk.

Three Itasca area youth development staff are delivering on SPARK’s vision – “strong communities where all learn and thrive” – and got a statewide nod for their work.

Community Engagement Coordinator Courtney Johnson and two of her University of Minnesota Extension 4-H colleagues, Becci Rasmussen and Jennifer Alger, received the Associate Dean’s Award for Courage and Innovation in early April. They also were recognized for the award at the Itasca County Commissioner’s meeting May 8.

The award honored six Extension Center for Youth Development employees across the state who demonstrate courage and innovation in outreach and engagement of first-generation youth and volunteers in Minnesota 4-H programs.

The trio does this in spades. They have created new approaches for 4-H Youth Development Programs to reach Itasca County youth “where they’re at”, making programs meaningful and easily accessible.

 

Warba and Grand Rapids

Courtney pilot-tested programming designed to build social-emotional learning; her work is incorporated into the school day at Northern Lights Community School (NLCS). Students participated in discussion and activities on topics such as values, communication and teamwork –and reflected on how they could use their new skill in community. Students also interviewed community members who have overcome challenges.

The approach had impact. Students learned they could make a difference, the importance of accepting others, and that they have control over their choices and their life path.  Staff reported the work captured students’ attention, strengthened listening skills, and built trust between staff and students. The program is now a regular part of curriculum at NLCS, and is also being delivered at the Area Learning Center in Grand Rapids.

 

Deer River and Nashwauk-Keewatin

Becci and Jennifer used data from youth program quality assessment (YPQA) and Making Meaning with Multiple Data Sets (M3) to guide the development of their after-school 4-H programming for Deer River youth offered in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Club of the Leech Lake Area. They identified opportunities to strengthen the program’s impact for youth.

They restructured the program, offering a series of seven lessons of 2 hours each, with lessons that build on each other. They also developed a parent letter with information about other 4-H opportunities, which students took home after each session.

“Healthy Living,” the first series, kicked off in October with 16 students grades K-8, one day a week. Soon a second day was added to meet demand. In all, they provided three series – Healthy Living, STEM and Animals – and served 96 students.

The program modifications strengthened ties between staff from both programs which creates a better learning environment for young people. Parents are enrolling students in additional 4-H events based on their experience with the after-school sessions. Most importantly, the format allowed adult leaders to build a strong relationship with each of the youth who participate. The adults connect with kids about their day, their interests, and these relationships are critical for youth’s success in the school day and in the community.

Similar programming is also offered to Nashwauk-Keewatin schools. Becci and Jennifer provide programming twice a month for youth enrolled in the afterschool program on-site.

“SPARK moments”

Area-wide results from 2014 Youth Voice survey

Area-wide results from 2014 Youth Voice survey

The 2014 Youth Voice survey shows that less than 10 percent of Itasca area youth believe their community values them, and only 6 percent say they’ve had a positive experience in community. The work of Courtney, Becci and Jennifer are great examples of Itasca adults stepping forward to create “SPARK moments” than can move the needle on these perceptions, ensuring our youth are grounded in positive, supportive experiences that provide a foundation to succeed. Congratulations!

What kinds of “SPARK moments” have you seen in your community? Let us know!

For more on Itasca County 4-H, click here.