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Middle schoolers ‘Ricochet’ into leadership with ISU Extension 4-H

Ricochet leadership for middle schoolers

Ricochet means to move around with a lot of energy and be unpredictable — sort of like middle school kids. Middle schoolers are going through rapid changes, awkward growth and numerous attempts to figure out where they fit in. But they’re ready for whatever comes their way. That’s why “Ricochet: An Extreme Leadership Adventure” from ISU Extension pledges skill development and fun.

Launched four and a half years ago by a group of ISU Extension specialists in northwest Iowa, the program is designed to meet the leadership development needs of middle school youth in creative and engaging ways. The program uses a variety of games and activities to address five dimensions of leadership — information, attitude, communication skills, decision making and stress management.

“Similar to a 4-H challenge or adventure education, we use games as metaphors for the things we teach,” said ISU Extension specialist Lisa Berkland, Ricochet’s program coordinator and author.

Brenda Welch, an ISU Extension youth development specialist, described a game with West Delaware middle schoolers to address communication issues: “Interferers” yelled and screamed to try and prevent a message from passing between “senders” and “receivers.”

“The kids loved the game, and after it we sat down and talked about communication interferences in real life. We use experiential learning — do, reflect and apply — to make meaning out of the games,” Welch explained.

Community service also is a large component of Ricochet. With the help of a community-leaders panel and some brainstorming, the kids come up with a way to serve their communities and then put their plan into action. Dickinson County youth took on a variety of projects including putting together food packets for Kids Against Hunger, making fleece blankets for a teen pregnancy center and helping with shore clean up at Okoboji.

Ricochet is another way ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development teaches skills that kids can use and apply now as well as when they become adults. To learn more, visit the Ricochet Web site. Middle school staff, community partners and volunteers interested in becoming Ricochet facilitators can register for training Sept. 29 and Sept. 30 in Ames.

This article appeared in September 2009 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter