Why do we need middle and high school programs in school-based settings?
Why and how we address middle and high school programs is best summed up by the research done by Deschenes et al. (2010) for the Harvard Family Research Project and Public/Private Ventures Wallace Foundation:
Middle school students need OST (out of school time) experiences that focus on choice, leadership opportunities, cultural enrichment, health and wellness and a chance to give back to their communities. High school students need college preparation, access to higher education opportunities and exposure to careers and workforce training. Older youth, particularly high school aged youth, are often better served by more targeted, in-depth curricula that address a specific area of interest. Additionally, out of school time (OST) programs can address a number of demands that are unique to these age groups, including high school completion, credit attainment and recovery, violence prevention, and workforce and postsecondary readiness.
In considering why to embark on a middle or high school program, consider that most OST programs focus on elementary-age youth because they need a place to go after school to be taken care of. In addition, homework and curriculum assistance programs are offered in abundance to elementary-age youth, while middle and high school youth have little access to these programs. All youth, regardless of age, are at risk for engaging in negative behaviors that can get them into trouble during the afterschool hours when parents and other family members are at work.
Middle and high school–age youth are at an age where they can most benefit from increasing opportunities to participate in programs with a positive adult role model, gain necessary life skills, and increase their knowledge of accessible opportunities. Middle and high school programs have the potential to support graduation rates and increase post-secondary school success.
What works for elementary school–age youth may not work for middle and high school–age youth. As youth age, they deal with new societal and peer pressures, have different needs that need to be addressed, and have an increase in the demands that may be placed on them academically and at home. Ever-increasing areas of concern are the effects of exposure to bullying, adverse childhood experiences, and mental health.
What to Focus On
Middle and high school programs should include the following features:
Middle school: peer interaction programs are key as they create routines for youth to feel safer, provide opportunities for them to try new things, and promote awareness of diversity and differences.
High school: giving youth more responsibility, offering more variety of programming, creating a menu of choices, and offering more specialized programming help engage this age group.
The list of possible topics is exhaustive as to what may benefit middle and high school students, with some of the more easily identifiable ideas listed below. Refer to the UF/IFAS Florida 4-H Curriculum Clearinghouse for assistance in locating appropriate resources: http://florida4h.org/programs/Florida_4-H_Curriculum-Clearing-House.pdf
Bullying: programs addressing peer and societal pressures, social media, and other avenues where youth come into contact with bullying as well as solutions to address bullying.
Career exploration: programs providing exposure to careers, inclusive of those requiring a college degree, technical school degree, and/or trade school certification.
Workplace skills (High School): programs targeting résumé building, dressing appropriately for the workforce, going on an interview, etc.
Real-world skills (High School): programs teaching youth about money management, how to cook for themselves, how to maintain a car, etc.
Health and wellness: programs targeting youth in the areas of nutrition, physical activity (sports and recreation), mental health, substance abuse, tobacco, etc.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics programs (STEM): programs promoting mentorship, internships, and apprenticeships in the areas of STEM.
Program Barriers and Solutions
As with all programming, assessing the barriers and considering the solutions to increase participation of middle and high school youth need to be identified. Below is a table of common barriers and the possible solutions. Before you assume you know these barriers exist, the partnership you maintain with a school or community site will be a valuable tool to pinpoint next steps. Refer to Spero (2019), School-Based 4-H Programming Series: Working with Partners Effectively (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/4h399) for more information.
Ensuring Success through Participation and Retention
Ideally you want your program to increase participation and attendance numbers while retaining youth. These attributes contribute to a more impactful positive youth development program. Overall, high-retention programs have the characteristics of strong organizational capacity and sound program management, which contribute to positive youth development. Important characteristics that include these features as referenced by Deschenes et al. (2010) are listed below:
Leadership: Make sure to provide leadership and volunteer positions, field trips, community service opportunities, mentorship opportunities, opportunities to design/lead activities for peers and younger youth, and youth governance committees through a youth council to foster independence in youth (one of the most important characteristics youth need at this age level).
Caring Adult Volunteer: The importance of the relationship of positive youth development and having a staff member provide that mentorship cannot be understated. Youth need to feel connected to the adults in the program on a more personal level. Staff should take an interest in the youth and follow up with them on a regular basis (collect report cards, meet regularly one on one, contact parents regularly, recognize accomplishments, and make school visits if needed).
Increasing Participation and Retention: Structural capacity of the program will affect participation and retention. Community-based sites for your program may be the best solution so youth don't have to go back to school again once they have already een dismissed. Programs that enroll a larger number of youth are sometimes more appealing since peers that youth don't want to engage with can be avoided. Larger programs may also offer more program choices. Holding regular staff meetings with an intentional focus on program structure and informing all staff and employees about any issues with the youth can increase success.
Middle and high school–age youth benefit from opportunities that meet their developmental and continuing education needs. An investment in working with this age group can foster new partnerships, develop leaders, and create awareness for youth when they may need it most. Middle and high school youth experience personal growth during this time period, and 4-H can benefit them tremendously.
Afterschool Alliance. Afterschool Innovations Brief: Focusing on Middle School Age Youth. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/documents/MetLifeCompendium.pdf. Accessed 6 March 2019.
Collins, A., Bronte-Tinkew, J., and Burkhauser, M. (2008). Using Incentives to Increase Participation in Out-of-School Programs. Research to Results, Practitioner Trends, Child Trends. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/child_trends-2008_06_18_pi_ostincentives.pdf. Accessed 6 March 2019.
Deschenes, S. N., Arbreton, A., Little, P., Herrera, C., Grossman, J. B., Weiss, H. B., and Lee, D. (2010). Engaging Older Youth: Program and City-Level Strategies to Support Sustained Participation in Out-of-School Time. Harvard Family Research Project, Public/Private Ventures, The Wallace Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/Documents/Engaging-Older-Youth-City-Level-Strategies-Support-Sustained-Participation-Out-of-School-Time.pdf. Accessed 6 March 2019.
Epstein, J. (2019). School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action. Corwin, A SAGE Company.
Florida 4-H Curriculum Clearinghouse. (2017). Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. Retrieved from http://florida4h.org/programs/Florida_4-H_Curriculum-Clearing-House.pdf. Accessed 6 March 2019.
Russell, L. (2012). City Strategies to Engage Older Youth in Afterschool Programs. National League of Cities, The Wallace Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.nlc.org/sites/default/files/2016-12/city-strategies-to-engage-older-youth-in-afterschool-programs-oct-12.pdf. Accessed 6 March 2019.
Spero, V. (2019). School-Based 4-H Programming: Working with Partners Effectively. 4HSFS101.16. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. Retrieved from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/4h399)
Spero, V. (2019). School-Based 4-H Programming: Incorporating Family Engagement. 4HSFS101.17. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. Retrieved from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/4h401.