Extension News

Research Proves What Iowans Know: 4-H Builds Youth Skills Long-term

4-H clover

Note to media editors: Gov. Chet Culver has officially proclaimed Oct. 5-11, 2008, as National 4-H Week in Iowa.

10/6/2008

AMES, Iowa -- Iowa 4-H youth are competent, confident, caring and connected, and exhibit strong character. And now there is nationwide research to prove it.

A recent Tufts University study shows that 4-H’ers contribute more to their families and communities, achieve higher grades in school and are more likely to go to college than youth who are not in 4-H, or even youth who participate in other out-of-school programs.

In addition, youth involved in 4-H lead healthier, more productive lives, are less likely to suffer from depression and are less likely to participate in at-risk behaviors like drinking and smoking, said Iowa State University Extension youth development specialist Keli Tallman, who leads program evaluation and research for the Iowa 4-H Youth Development program.

“These positive aspects continue with 4-H youth long-term — throughout their adolescence — and likely will continue into adulthood,” Tallman said.

Iowa 4-H’ers agree. According to former Palo Alto County 4-H’er Kara Strand, a current Iowa State University student, “Now I realize that 4-H really was shaping me into the person I am today. I met lifetime friends, gained leadership and communication skills, and learned about responsibility, interviewing and organizational skills. I would never replace my 4-H years for anything because they have shown to be very valuable to me now that I am in college.”

Added ISU student Krista Frazee, of Montgomery County, “Through 4-H activities, I have learned the qualities and attributes that it takes to become an effective leader and team member. 4-H has helped prepare me for life after high school and college in ways that no other organization could.”

The Tufts study is the first-ever longitudinal research measuring the characteristics of positive youth development. Researchers polled more than 4,400 youth involved in a variety of after-school activities and 2,800 parents from 34 states to measure the impact personal and social factors were having on young people’s development. After years of research, they concluded that exposing youth to high levels of positive youth development — like those found in 4-H — will help kids develop competence, confidence, character and compassion for others. In addition, youth will have better and more sustained connections with peers and adults and will be more likely to contribute to their communities, their families and themselves.

Tallman noted three key findings of the long-term effects of 4-H participation:

  • Youth who spend more time in 4-H are more likely to experience positive youth development and contribute than peers involved in non-4-H programs.
  • 4-H youth are 3.5 times more likely to contribute to themselves, their families and their communities, and 1.5 times more likely to show the highest levels of positive youth development. 
  • Involvement in youth development programs like 4-H increases a young person’s potential of doing well. The study notes that the odds of 4-H youth in eighth grade expecting to go to college are 1.6 times higher than the odds for comparison youth.

But none of the findings surprised Tallman.

“Each year we receive numerous stories of Iowa 4-H’ers contributing to their families and communities,” she said.

For example, a Butler County 4-H’er took time away from cleaning up his own family’s total loss from the Parkersburg tornado to sand bag near Clarksville to help prevent flooding, said Kendra Crooks, ISU Extension youth development specialist who serves Butler County. “He wanted to be able to assist others in need and help them prevent damage despite the hardships he and his family were personally experiencing from their total loss of family home, farm, vehicles and business.” 

4-H’ers in northwest Iowa gathered art supplies for kids in after-school programs in Cedar Rapids that had been devastated by the 2008 floods. “Some of the supplies are being used to support art therapy as a way to address the affected young people’s frustration, anger and fear after the flooding,” said Ann Torbert, an ISU Extension youth development specialist who serves the Cedar Rapids area.

The Cedar Rapids Girl Scouts and The Arc, an organization that works with children with special needs, lost supplies and equipment when the building they share was flooded. A 4-H family in Des Moines spearheaded the collection of donations and gathered supplies to replace much of what was lost, Torbert said.

The Tufts research also supports data from the 2007 Iowa 4-H Youth Citizenship, Leadership and Communication self-assessment, Tallman noted.

“Iowa 4-H club members most commonly indicated that 4-H helped them gain citizenship skills by being involved in service learning projects to improve their communities. They gained leadership skills by setting their own goals, and they gained communication skills by learning to express their ideas and speaking and writing effectively,” she said.

Gov. Chet Culver has officially proclaimed Oct. 5-11, 2008, as National 4-H Week in Iowa. 4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, serving more than 6 million young people across America who are learning leadership, citizenship and life skills. One quarter of Iowa’s young people are involved in 4-H. In Iowa, 4-H Youth Development is headquartered at the Iowa State University campus in Ames. For more information about joining 4-H, contact your Iowa State University Extension county office at www.extension.iastate.edu/content/county-offices/ or see www.extension.iastate.edu/kidsteens/.

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Contacts :

Keli Tallman, ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development, (515) 294-0688, ktallman@iastate.edu

Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, lsternwe@iastate.edu