Academic journal article Rural Educator

Expressed Values of 4-H Adult Volunteer Leaders: Implications for Rural Teachers and 4-H Staff

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Expressed Values of 4-H Adult Volunteer Leaders: Implications for Rural Teachers and 4-H Staff

Article excerpt

Historically, the collaborative efforts between rural teachers and 4-H have provided enhanced opportunities for youth that would not have been otherwise possible. As resources continue to diminish in rural communities, this collaboration is valuable to both schools and the 4-H organization. Currently rural schools are concentrating on the increased demand for academic accountability through performance testing and other evaluation instruments. This trend has resulted in less time for the elective outlets that have traditionally been an important part of school.

At a time when 4-H could help fill an important gap in rural communities, changes within the organization have left some volunteers feeling overwhelmed. This article offers a theoretical framework for understanding the feelings and values of rural 4-H volunteers during a period of dramatic organizational change.

Created at the turn of the 20th century, 4-H was designed to improve the quality of life for youth in rural America. Since its inception, 4-H has accomplished its mission most profoundly through clubs, consisting of at least five members working on similar projects over a period of time with a local leader. Historically, 4-H has changed and developed primarily as a reflection of national events, i.e. two world wars, a depression and a post-war economic boom (Rasmussen, 1989). However, throughout most of its history, 4-H sought to improve the efficiency of agriculture by transferring technical information to youth as a means of reaching their parents. As agriculture became more efficient, the number of farms decreased and there was a general out-migration of farm youth from rural communities. Indeed, during the 20th century, the number of people living in rural American declined from 60 to 25 percent of the total population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002).

Coinciding with the dramatic decrease in agriculture population, there was an increased national focus on youth issues. Initially labeled Youth at Risk following the release of a Nation at Risk (1983), it became apparent that youth issues were not solely an urban problem, rather youth in rural communities were exhibiting similar behaviors as their urban counterparts.

To meet these changing societal demands, during the 1990s the statewide 4-H program in the state where this study was conducted shifted its emphasis from technology transfer to youth development by adopting a set of "core concepts" to underpin all educational activities. The hallmark "hands on" or experiential projects continued to be implemented, but the focus of the projects shifted from skill development to developing more life skills, whereby youth would a) learn and practice self responsibility and social responsibility to feel accountable and in control of their own lives; b) recognize when and how to make informed decisions and implement these decisions to solve problems or achieve goals; c) communicate effectively both verbally and in written form; and d) obtain career and occupational information to prepare for the world of work.

This progression and ultimate shift from an emphasis on technology transfer to youth development was consistent with Hall's (1994) description of the six period life cycle of an organization. The first three periods, foundation, expansion and stability, reflect a linear growth and development. However for all organizations, there is inevitably a breakdown period usually brought upon by a shift in societal and cultural values and needs. During this period, the organization experiences a confusion of values. Shortly thereafter there is a critical period in which the organization does one of the three things: a) ceases to exist, b) continues on a minimal basis, or c) tries to renew itself. If the latter choice is made, the organization experiences a sixth period of revitalization whereby there is a reenvisioning of values to ensure their relevance in changing times.

The behavior of the 4-H program in the state where this study was conducted was a reflection of this movement into the sixth period that Hall (1994) described. …

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