On Advancing the 4-H Thriving Model

Welcome to October everyone, and the start of a brand new 4-H (and academic) year. The unusual cold of the last few days in Oregon has definitely set the stage for the coming autumn, and with it all the excitement of a new year of learning as we work together to help youth thrive!

To catch you all up a bit, I took the summer away from the blog in order to re-energize and refocus after what turned out to be an unexpected and rather unwelcome rough spring. When spring turned into summer I jumped into my nine month sabbatical that is intended to accomplish a singular goal of advancing the 4-H Thriving Model across the national 4-H System. It is such exciting work, and I am so excited to get underway with the next steps of this project.

But this summer was an opportunity to take a deep dive into the current literature in youth development, as well as look more closely at one of the preeminent developmental scholars, Erik Erikson, upon whose work a great deal of our modern youth development theory and practice is based. It took a while to get through the dense but very informative biography entitled Identity’s Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson. I hope over the coming months to share the ways in which Erikson’s work influences our practice today.

I also completed a few manuscripts, including one on the first wave of research on the 4-H Thriving Model co-authored with lead analyst Dr. Ryan Gagnon, which will be published this month in the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, entitled Illuminating the Process of Youth Development: The Mediating Effect of Thriving on Youth Development Program Outcomes. Another manuscript updating the 4-H Thriving Model and describing the next steps for advancing it is ready to send off for review. And another fun paper written with my colleague Jon Gandy was just published in the Journal of Extension describing a participatory evaluation project we did with some teens to get their take on the 4-H Thriving Model, entitled Youth Participatory Evaluation: Matching 4-H Youth Experience to Program Theory.

But by far, the bulk of my time was spent preparing to launch a task force chartered by the National 4-H Program Leaders Working Group (PLWG) to advance the 4-H Thriving Model across the national system. The interest in, and support of, the 4-H Thriving Model as the way we define positive youth development in 4-H has been wonderful, and at the same time full of challenges. Adopting the model with clarity and fidelity requires three things: (1) professional development for 4-H staff and volunteers; (2) further research on the model using a realistic evaluation approach: “What works for whom under what conditions;” and (3) organizational alignment across all entities of the 4-H program, focusing especially on helping the system understand that the 4-H Thriving Model is not a departure from other models we have used to describe 4-H.

The moment arrived last spring when it was clear I could no longer do this work alone. And the best news? I don’t have to because of the many talented and dedicated scholars and practitioners across the 4-H system who are willing to help guide the work.

Over the summer I put out a call for membership on this PLWG Advancing the 4-H Thriving Model task force and was delighted to receive applications from 55 people who want to participate. I am so excited to get underway with this work, and as we do, I will keep you informed on the blog.

So, welcome to this lovely season of fall. I hope you all get off to a successful start of the 4-H year. And to my colleagues here in Oregon, I look forward to working with all of you as we build forward from today together- with our singular goal of helping youth thrive.

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold

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