Oregon 4-Hers benefit from partnering with adults

February 13, 2004

CORVALLIS - Young people in Oregon 4-H programs experience more positive growth and involvement when they participate as full partners with adults in planning and conducting activities, according to recent research findings at Oregon State University.

Mary Arnold, OSU Extension 4-H Youth development specialist, conducted the study to measure ways in which 4-H programs contribute to positive youth development.

Arnold presented her research results recently at the Western Regional 4-H youth Development Specialist Conference in Albuquerque, N.M. She leads program evaluation efforts in the Oregon 4-H program.

The study surveyed 201 randomly selected 4-Hers, ages 12-18, from Polk, Yamhill, Tillamook, Washington, Clatsop and Columbia counties. The youth were participants in 4-H youth leadership programs, which emphasize development of leadership skills, and 4-H youth/adult partnership programs, which emphasize opportunities for young people to function as partners with adult leaders in managing and directing program activities.

"4-H youth leadership and youth/adult partnership programs were selected for the evaluation because they symbolize the approach to youth development that makes the Oregon 4-H program unique," Arnold said.

Using a statistical tool called multiple regression analysis, Arnold measured the effect of participation in 4-H leadership and youth/adult partnership programs on five personal growth areas: caring, willingness to contribute, self-esteem, autonomy and coping skills.

"The growth areas chosen for measurement in the study are all included in the set of positive youth development outcomes that are part of every 4-H youth program," said Arnold.

The results of the study indicated that young people in 4-H youth/adult partnership programs came out of the activity with a strong sense that the experience made them better in all five areas.

Arnold believes the study is an important first step in developing an evaluation system that can be used for all Oregon 4-H youth programs.

"We know 4-H programs provide youth with positive experiences that contribute to their growth, but we haven't had any systematic way of measuring it," said Arnold. "Statistically-based evaluation of 4-H program outcomes is fairly new, but so far appears to present a lot of potential for gauging program effectiveness."

Accurate reporting of the outcomes of 4-H programs is more important than ever now, Arnold noted, because taxpayers and private donors expect to be informed about the impacts of programs their dollars support.

Arnold added that she hopes 4-H practitioners in other states will use her approach to measuring outcomes of their 4-H programs in order to add to what is known about the impacts of these programs. She plans to continue developing her evaluation approach and apply it more broadly to other 4-H programs throughout Oregon and the United States.

Author: Bob Rost
Source: Mary Arnold