Innovative teen leadership project serves youths in Columbia River Gorge

After virtual school instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon State University Extension Service 4-H Youth Development staff in Wasco County noticed that students coming to after-school programs had difficulty sharing materials, interacting with others and collaborating during group activities. Lu Seapy, 4-H STEM educator in Wasco County researched social-emotional learning to use in her program.

As she began adapting curriculum from the University of Minnesota’s social and emotional curriculum and educator toolkit – and completing the online social-emotional learning training course for educators – she noticed a clear decrease in student aggression towards others, disruptive behavior and emotional mood swings. She secured $75,000 in grant funding to create the resulting “Learning to Lead” project.

The project trained 15 high school students in Hood River and Wasco counties to lead and mentor younger students in engineering and computer science projects infused with social-emotional learning activities during out-of-school settings. The students received 20 hours of paid training in reflection, inclusion, empathy and conflict resolution skills. The collaboration of six organizations spread across two counties allowed for enhanced outreach to groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM – specifically Latinx, female and/or rural youths.

The teen leaders also received valuable paid work experiences in placements with 4-H in Wasco and Hood River counties, Columbia Gorge Education Service District’s Migrant Education Program, Hood River County School District, North Wasco County School District and Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation.

As part of her work experience, teen leader Rayanne Nutbolm of The Dalles taught students coding using the Micro Bit microcomputer. Nutbolm taught students to program their name in LED and an emoji that showed how they were feeling.

“I liked that we each planned and presented a lesson during one of the camps,” Nutbolm said. “It was fun to watch students enjoy learning new things in many STEM areas.”

The addition of well-trained student workers allowed 4-H staff in Wasco and Hood River counties to enhance programming and provide additional educational support. 4-H in Wasco County led record number of summer camps and learning programs, with eight weeks of programming at 3-5 days per week, including three different program sites per day.

To date, the Teen Leaders have served over 1,000 students in Hood River and Wasco counties with over 460 hours of teaching. The project will expand in 2023 to 4-H in Gilliam County and the Extension Open Campus and Juntos program in Wasco and Hood River.

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