On Thriving in Maine

Where Knowledge is Teachable

This week I headed to New England on my helping youth thrive tour, and on Tuesday we followed Route 1 up the Maine coast from Portland to Orono, home of the university of Maine. As promised when we locked in the dates for this visit, the autumn splendor of the northeast was in full swing (I heard last night this this week is the peak of color for many locations). Seeing the New England fall trees is something I have always wanted to do, so a slow drive on a beautiful day was definitely a treat. Let’s face it, Oregon is a state full of natural beauty, but it simply can’t match the brilliant reds against the deep green pine among bursts of yellow and orange that is abundant in Maine right now. It was a breathtaking drive at every turn of the road.

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of introducing the 4-H Thriving Model to the 4-H staff at the UM campus in Orono. As I have conducted these trainings I have learned over and over again the importance of grounding this academic work in the lived experiences and practices of real youth practitioners – the people on the ground, working directly with young people and witnessing the powerful effects that 4-H can have on them. To do this I start the day by asking them to reflect on four questions in small(ish) groups:

  1. What draws youth to 4-H
  2. What benefits do youth gain from being in 4-H
  3. What role do 4-H volunteers play?
  4. What makes 4-H unique from other youth-serving organizations?

After some discussion each group then prepares a poster that captures their discussion and answers to the questions.

At the end of the day, we return to the posters and I ask the groups to “code” their posters with little shiny stars, placing a different colored star on their poster where there poster illustrated each of the components of the 4-H Thriving Model. The result is a colorful poster covered in shiny stars – a perfect graphic portrayal of how they are already implementing the 4-H Thriving Model in the programming they are doing.

The question I ask the groups to reflect on is whether they see every element of the 4-H Thriving Model reflected on their posters. The answer is always “yes.” It is so rewarding for me to help these dedicated educators see the power of their own work. And also so see a palatable relief that the 4-H Thriving Model is understandable and not foreign to their everyday reality at all.

From here, the educators often feel empowered by the model, and excited to think about how they can use the model to improve what they already do – to make their educational efforts with youth even more effective.

By far, though, my favorite part is the end of the day when I ask the educators to reflect on the value of what we learned during the day. Everytime I so I learn something new. At the end of our time together in Maine one educator stated simply: “I now have clear knowledge of what I have to do to be an effective youth educator, and knowledge is teachable.” Meaning among other things, that gaining an understanding of the 4-H Thriving Model has given her the tools she needs to teach others, including her 4-H volunteers, how to do effective, research-based 4-H programs with youth.

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold

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