They can do algebra, but do they have life skills? 4-H preps kids for adulthood
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Most kids can’t wait to grow up. But today, many parents are concerned that their children aren’t ready to enter the adult world, according to researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“In a survey of parents of first-year college students, from the work of my colleague Heidi Radunovich, parents rated their children lower on social and conflict management skills as well as navigating university systems and financial literacy,” said Kate Fogarty, associate professor of family, youth and community sciences.
However, interventions earlier in life can help young people develop the life skills needed to transition into adulthood, Fogarty said. Youth development programs such as 4-H, which help youth build skills and confidence in a safe and supportive environment, can make this kind of positive impact.
Research shows, in the 4-H Positive Youth Development Study, that youth who participate in community-based programs such as 4-H are more motivated to do well in school, more likely to help others, are better able to communicate with adults and peers, and have increased decision-making skills, Fogarty said.
Savannah Banner, 17, has been an Alachua County 4-H member since she was old enough to join. She was one of the “shy kids” when she was younger, but holding 4-H officer positions and competing in 4-H public speaking competitions helped build her confidence.
4-H is also where she discovered her passion for entomology — specifically the study of moths and butterflies, or Lepidoptera. Three years ago, Banner was confident enough to approach her 4-H agent and Rebecca Baldwin, undergraduate coordinator and assistant professor of entomology and nematology, with an idea for a 4-H bug camp for Alachua County youth.
“I participated in the UF Entomology Field Camp for several years, but when I aged out of the camp, I still wanted to be involved. I wanted to be able to give that experience to younger kids who were too young for UF Entomology Field Camp,” Banner said.
Banner recruited several 4-H members around her own age to help her run the camp. “It is a mentorship opportunity for me to be able to share my experience with them,” she said.
With the help of a few adult mentors, Banner still runs the week-long camp, which introduces youth to the science of bugs and hands-on bug collection.
“Savannah demonstrated her leadership and organization as she developed this camp from what she learned through 4-H. Now a new generation of 4-Hers are experiencing science in a fun and interactive way,” Baldwin said. In fact, due to campers like Savannah, UF has begun to offer an Advanced Entomology Field Camp for high school students, she said.
Banner’s leadership skills have not gone unnoticed. After volunteering at the Florida Museum of Natural History last year and helping teach the museum’s first Lepidoptera camp, she earned a paid position assisting Andrei Sourakov, collections coordinator for the museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. This summer, she will be training museum volunteers and working in the moth and butterfly collections.
After completing her general education at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College — she wants to get away from Gainesville for a little while — Banner eventually wants to earn a degree in entomology from UF.
4-H is a national youth development program provided through public universities across the U.S. In Florida, UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension delivers 4-H programming.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.