OSU 4-H program success told at national conference

February 14, 2003

CORVALLIS - Trained volunteers in the Oregon State University Extension Service 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program have become effective partners with Oregon public schools in teaching children about nature, science and the environment, according to an OSU Extension educator speaking at a national conference in Tucson, Arizona.

The conference, "Creating Common Ground in Youth Development," was held at the University of Arizona. Invited speakers from across the U.S. spoke about research, policy and practice in exemplary educational programs for youth.

Mary Arnold, an OSU Extension 4-H youth specialist, outlined Oregon's 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program and the success it has enjoyed over the past five years. The program offers great potential to improve natural resources and science education in schools throughout the country, she said.

The 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program trains adult volunteers who work with children to conduct wildlife habitat projects on school grounds. The wildlife stewards cooperate with school officials, teachers and community members to convert portions of schoolyards into wildlife habitat demonstration areas, which are then used as outdoor learning labs to engage students in hands-on science projects.

Local businesses often donate materials used in the construction of the demonstration areas.

The program serves 55 member schools and 12,887 students in five Oregon counties. OSU Extension faculty are developing the program into a national model for natural resources education through a $748,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Arnold is lead evaluator for the project.

"So far program organizers have found that the trained 4-H wildlife stewards have been very good as informal science educators in public schools," said Arnold. "They tend to be very enthusiastic about what they do, often - but not always - because they have a child going to the school where they volunteer.

"The real value of the 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program is that it provides a way for public schools to offer a hands-on science inquiry experience to go along with the science education students receive in class," Arnold added. "Due to increasing class size and shrinking budgets in many schools, teachers are simply unable to give students hands-on learning opportunities in the natural science area."

Many Oregon school administrators are especially appreciative of the 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program because it helps them meet new Oregon Benchmarks for science education in elementary and middle schools, Arnold pointed out.

4-H wildlife steward volunteers receive subject matter training on wildlife habitat, how to effectively work with schools, and how to lead experiential learning projects, Arnold said.

The volunteers complete 30 hours of training, and are required to volunteer 50 hours of instruction at a school that offers the 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program. Maureen Hosty, 4-H field faculty member in the Multnomah County office of the OSU Extension Service, started the program in 1997.

"This program demonstrates the powerful role that trained volunteers can play in the education of young people," Arnold said. "And, the design of the program is a great example of how new and innovative partnerships between schools, businesses and communities can enhance the education of our youth."

Author: Bob Rost
Source: Mary Arnold