On Looking at the 4-H Thriving Model through an Equity Lens

Food for Thought Friday

By Guest Blogger Dr. Nia Imani Fields

4-H Specialist, University of Maryland Extension 4-H Youth Development

My name is Nia Imani Fields and I am a 4-H Specialist in Maryland. I am passionate about increasing access to positive youth development opportunities for youth who have historically been overlooked. There is a popular saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know”. This is true both in childhood and through one’s adult life. The ‘who you know’ can be described as social capital—the networks and relationships that allow one to better navigate the world we live in.

4-H provides new opportunities for young people to increase their networks and self-efficacy—the ‘I can do it’ and ‘I have the support I need’ feeling! These experiences can help youth thrive into adulthood.

As we look at the 4-H Thriving Model, we have to be sure to look through an equity lens. Not all youth have the same access to opportunities and ‘who you knows’ to achieve the same outcomes and thrive through adulthood. Some youth for instance, don’t have the connections to request assistance with a college scholarship, write a letter of recommendation for a job, or have awareness of national 4-H leadership opportunities that can lead to new sparks.

As youth development educators, we have to intentionally and continuously look at our programs, practices, and policies to ensure they are equitable. This is critical if we believe all youth should fully benefit from and thrive within 4-H.  As we think about the critical elements of 4-H program quality identified by Eccles and Gootman in their 2002 volume entitled Community Programs to Promote Youth Development and described in the 4-H Thriving Model, here are some things to consider:

8 Critical Aspects of Quality Equitable Considerations
Physical and psychological safety …consider the youth’s socioecological factors
Appropriate structure …that is culturally relevant
Supportive relationships …with diverse groups of youth & adults
Opportunities to belong …genuine and intentional belonging
Positive social norms …should not reinforce a hegemonic understanding of norms or behaviors
Support for efficacy and mattering …opportunities for critical thinking & social justice
Opportunities for skill building …through culturally relevant learning
Integration of family, school and community …strengthening networks and the ‘who you knows’

As we reflect on the 4-H Thriving Model alongside our programs, we should ask ourselves:

  • Do we know the historical and socioecological factors that influence the lives of young people in my community?
  • How do I identify and include diverse voices as we develop and share our programs?
  • Are there barriers that restrict full participation in our programs? What can we do to remove any barriers?

If we begin to look at our programs with an equity lens, we can continue to make our best better and provide opportunities where all youth truly have an opportunity to thrive in 4-H!

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