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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU study shows 4-H has positive impact on youth development

LAS CRUCES - Studies across the nation, one of which included New Mexico, show that youth participating in 4-H are more likely to demonstrate good leadership traits and less likely to participate in at-risk behaviors.

During National 4-H Week, Oct. 7-13, New Mexico members will join in the celebration of the program that has given them an avenue to develop good behaviors while learning life skills.

"We had nearly 2,000 fifth-, seventh- and ninth-grade students respond to our survey that we conducted in schools across the state," said Frank Hodnett, state director of the 4-H program, which is provided through New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. "We felt this was a good representation of our state's youth."

The student responses were divided into groups of those having been in 4-H and those who were not. "There was a significant difference between the two groups in many areas," Hodnett said. "Where the 4-H group had a positive response to questions, the others were the opposite."

The 4-H group was more likely to have good grades, volunteer in class, help others in school, be elected as a leader in school, be involved in leadership roles during school, serve on committees, be role models for other kids to look up to and feel responsible for their own actions. They also have good organizational skills and are comfortable speaking in public.

They also indicated that they feel adults care about youth by listening and making them feel important. They are also more likely to talk to their parents about sex.

"The 4-H group also felt they matter to people and feel important and useful in their families," Hodnett said. "They indicated they are given chances for community service and helping decide what goes on at school. They are also good at finding good ways to change a bad situation."

In at-risk indicator behavior, the 4-H group indicated they are less likely to cheat on a test, drink, shoplift, use drugs, damage property, use smokeless tobacco or have sex.

"The survey indicated the 4-H member is more likely to stay out of trouble," Hodnett said. The study was conducted in New Mexico, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada and Utah.

Hodnett said the reason 4-H has a positive impact on youth is because the program encompasses the essential elements of youth development.

"We touch the lives of 70,000 kids in New Mexico through our three main programs - school enrichment, special interest and clubs - of those 7,000 are involved in clubs," Hodnett said. The program also has 5,000 adult volunteer leaders working with the youth. "Volunteers are the backbone of 4-H. Without the volunteer leaders we wouldn't be anywhere.

"Our volunteer leaders create a positive environment by being caring adults, and by giving kids an opportunity for skill mastery and self determination as well as opportunities for leadership. We provide a safe environment, both emotionally and physically, where the youth are able to succeed," he said.

The youth obtain life skills through the 4-H educational philosophy of "learn by doing." They have the opportunity to participate in more than 200 project areas.

This year during National 4-H Week, the organization is celebrating its work in science, engineering and technology, just one of the 4-H program areas. The other areas are healthy lifestyles and citizenship.

"We are more than plows, cows and cookies," said Hodnett. The curriculum areas include computer and space science, natural resources, personal health, global education, financial management and entrepreneurship and electricity as well as the traditional areas of animal science and home economics.

"We are working with various colleges on NMSU's campus that have not had formal relationships to expand our 4-H program offerings. We are working to establish expertise in other areas that kids might be interested in," he said.

"We believe the club model can be developed around any area of interest. In Montana there is a skateboard club where members learn safety of the sport, nutrition through healthy snacks and photography. In New Mexico there is a snow skiing special interest project in San Juan County as well as sport fishing in San Juan and Socorro counties. These are examples of what can be done when volunteer leaders think out of the traditional box."

For more information about the 4-H program in your community or county contact your local Cooperative Extension 4-H Agent.