Need for Quality 4-H Afterschool Programs Continues
“Back in 1995, my son Ted was in an awesome 4-H afterschool club at Midvale Elementary School in Madison, Wisconsin. On 4-H Club day, he got to choose what he wanted to explore. AFTER SCHOOL, Inc. staff and volunteers set up 4-H project tables, offering woodworking, electricity, aerospace and craft activities. His favorite place was “The Cage,” with 4-H small animal projects like guinea pigs, turtles and other pocket pets. Each April there was a big 4-H Afterschool Fair at the Dane County Alliant Energy Center, where more than 25 4-H afterschool clubs, operated by AFTER SCHOOL, Inc. (later renamed the Wisconsin Youth Company) had exhibits and displays. One year, they even hosted the Dane County 4-H Talent Show. It was a great opportunity for busy working families to get a taste of 4-H. And if they liked it, they could join a local 4-H club. Ted joined the Westquesters 4-H Club and was active in the State 4-H Tech Team and 4-H Labo exchanges with Japan. Ted was lucky, because he had access to so many quality afterschool programs.
Looking back I have to ponder, why was this such an awesome 4-H afterschool experience? First, there was a synergetic relationship between Kay Cowing, the Dane County 4-H educator and the AFTER SCHOOL Inc. Director Nancy Goodell. Nancy had been a 4-H leader and understood the potential of this partnership. Secondly, Linda Eisele, the training director at AFTER SCHOOL Inc. and had been an extension agent in Missouri and understood that 4-H was all about youth development. Most importantly, there was an onsite afterschool supervisor, Kari Eggers, who loved animals and discovered that 4-H was an incentive to keep her older kids participating in her afterschool program. She empowered youth to make decisions on how to make their program better. She listened and matched the interests of kids with the skills of her staff and sought out volunteers to fill the gaps. I call it the perfect storm – where the needs of kids, staff, volunteers and administration all came together to provide quality afterschool programs.
This was my first experience with 4-H Afterschool programs, and as a working parent; I was sold on the idea. Soon I was elected to the Board of Directors for AFTER SCHOOL Inc. I was also recruited by Linda Eisele, to serve on the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin AfterSchool Association, which was comprised of key afterschool program administrators. It was a holistic experience, where I saw the need for quality afterschool programs from the viewpoint of a parent, as well as the research backed perspective of a youth development specialist.
Wisconsin 4-H Youth Development staff answered the call to help provide quality afterschool programs. Afterschool 4-H clubs were established and the program area provided research-based experimental curriculum to afterschool programs. It also created over 70 activity plans and developed a jury-review system to assure quality. Extension staff trained afterschool staff and built partnerships with other community groups. In 2011, there were 5,530 Wisconsin youth participating in 856 4-H afterschool clubs.
With 100 years of youth development experience, I believe Cooperative Extension staff must provide leadership to actively re-engage with providers, governmental agencies, statewide organizations and leaders across the state. By doing this we can gain support to enhance and improve the quality of out-of-school programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families.
My son Ted is now 25 and is far from settling down. However, two of my nieces are married and have children. My oldest grandnephew, Jonathan, is four years old and his mother works part time. My Centennial Anniversary wish is that Jonathan, and all Wisconsin youth, will have access to quality afterschool programs, equal to or better than what Ted had in 1995. And my hope is that Cooperative Extension’s staff and volunteers will continue to help make this happen. “