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Rules of (youth) engagement

Brittany Eich, a 4-H state ambassador from Anoka County, leads a small-group activity that she planned and adapted for other Minnesota youth.

Minnesota 4-H prepares young people to excel in college, careers and communities.

For as long as she can remember, Brittany Eich has loved learning about horses, from anatomy and genetics to feed and nutrition. But 10 years ago, when she joined a 4-H horse-knowledge competition and helped prepare her teammates, she discovered that she loved teaching other young people, too. Today, in her role as a 4-H state ambassador, Eich teaches hundreds of Minnesota youth across the state about leadership, service, diversity and teamwork. By empowering youth to plan and lead educational activities for their peers, Extension's 4-H program puts decades of youth development research into practice every day.

The 4-H model, based on University research, utilizes methods that sustain longterm learning and behavior change in young people. Using that as its foundation, 4-H helps youth develop key skills they will need to succeed in college, their careers, and communities, such as communications, problem-solving, decision-making and coping. Ongoing research shows the 4-H model is proving quite effective.

A 4-H participant practices preparing for a job or college interview, one of many life skills learned in the program.

According to a national longitudinal study by Tufts University, youth who participate in 4-H have better grades, are more emotionally engaged with school, are more likely to see themselves going to college, and are more than twice as likely to be civically active and make contributions to their communities.

Eich, who first became involved in 4-H as a shy fifth-grader in Anoka County, credits the Extension youth development program for much of the improvement in her interpersonal communications skills. Through 4-H, she made new friends and learned about her favorite subject, horses.

"I was quiet and not very outgoing," Eich says. "My mom had been in 4-H and knew I'd build my self-confidence by getting involved. She was right. 4-H pushed me to explore new things and helped me grow."

One of Eich's key responsibilities this year was to help plan and lead statewide youth leadership conferences delivered to about 1,000 Minnesota sixth- through 12th-graders. At one of the conferences, she helped prepare and teach a money-management course.

"Brittany and the other ambassadors worked diligently to figure out how to best adapt the curriculum," says Jan Derdowski, Extension youth development educator and co-leader of the 4-H State Ambassador program. "They wanted to ensure that all the kids, whether age 12 or 18, would be able to understand and relate to the content."

The endeavor took careful planning, according to Eich. "We didn't want it to be about money, but about choices and decisions," she says. "We created activities that examined need versus want, how advertising affects their decisions, and about the impact of their choices."

Now a student in the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences, Eich continues to look for opportunities to mentor and teach as she pursues a career as a veterinarian. She says she intends to continue volunteering in 4-H.

"4-H helped me find connections and grow," says Eich, "and I want to give that to other kids."

To learn more, visit Minnesota 4-H.

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