Youth Learning Citizenship and Community Contribution

Sarah Tarjeson, 4-H Youth Development Educator and Linda Robson, 4-H Youth Development Program Coordinator

 Youth Learning Citizenship and Community Contribution

The young people of our communities are capable, confident and willing to engage in their communities in a variety of ways. However, many factors point to a lack of engagement of youth in meaningful opportunities including:

  • Low participation rates reflect a decline of trust in public institutions and public leaders.
  • Youth experience a lack of meaningfulness in civic experiences.
  • Civic engaged youth are more likely to register to vote, write to a public official, investigate compelling political issues, participate in lawful demonstrations, and boycott certain products or stores.
  • Youth in the United States are below the international average in their understanding of the role of a citizen and citizens’ political rights.

The Positive Development of Youth: Comprehensive Findings from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, is a longitudinal study that began in 2002 and was repeated annually for eight years, surveying more than 7,000 adolescents from diverse backgrounds across 42 U.S. states. It is highly regarded as the first-ever research project of its kind, and the study defined and measured positive youth development including the development of community engagement and citizenship among youth. The report shows that youth involved in 4-H programs excel in several areas compared to their peers. 4-H’ers are about:

  • Four times more likely to make contributions to their communities(Grades 7-12)
  • Two times more likely to be civically active(Grades 8-12)

Sheboygan County 4-H Youth Development Educators place a concerted effort on the development of citizenship and life skills throughout the 4-H year. Young people are provided with opportunities to 1) serve as officers in their clubs, 2) chair activity committees, 3) serve as project leaders, and 4) serve on countywide boards and committees. These opportunities provide youth with essential leadership, communication, and decision-making skills. Members who hold leadership positions are more likely to participate in other leadership roles at school and later in the community as adults. Today’s 4-H youth leaders maybe tomorrow’s town supervisors, village board members, city council members, school board members, Fair Board members, or other community leaders.

Each fall 4-H Youth Development Staff and volunteers plan and facilitate a 4-H Club Officer Training for youth planning to serve in leadership roles within their club or the County 4-H program. The training allows young people to enhance their leadership skills by 1) becoming familiar with the different officer duties, 2) learning basic parliamentary procedure in order to conduct effective meetings, 3) learning how to manage their group’s finances, and 4) learning how to document their club’s business activities. The training also allows youth the opportunity to develop teamwork skills, expand their problem-solving and decision making, and improve their communication skills.

In addition, 4-H offers the opportunity for young people and adults to increase their understanding of parliamentary procedures through training and practice. These skills help reduce anxiety and prepare constituents to engage in the civil processes used throughout our government.