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The results are in …

Those of us who participated in 4-H when we were young may already know the benefits of the 4-H program. For those who are not so familiar with the program, survey results are now available that provide some insight into the impacts of 4-H participation.

In 2012, Illinois 4-H conducted three statewide surveys to evaluate the program. One survey focused on graduating high school seniors who were 4-H members; another focused on 4-H Community Club members; and the third focused on youth participating in 4-H science programs. Local youth participated in each of the three surveys. Thank you to the clubs for allowing us to visit your club meetings to distribute and collect the surveys! Your responses provided us with valuable information we can use to see ways in which our programs are successful, and areas for improvement.

The survey results became available in early 2013. I am excited to report the survey results were very positive.

The high school senior 4-H members were asked questions related to career development. Four-Hers surveyed reported their 4-H experience exposed them to areas of interest; helped them to develop leadership skills; instilled in them a work ethic and sense of responsibility; and helped them to become more confident. About 97 percent reported they are learning skills through 4-H that they can use in a future job.

Across the state, 4-H Community Clubs were also randomly selected to participate in a survey about their 4-H club experience; 4,595 4-H members participated in the survey. These 4-Hers indicated a strong sense of belonging to their club and having a sense of connection with that group. Youth also indicated that as a result of being a member of a 4-H club, they develop independent life skills; are provided opportunities to contribute to their community and feel encouraged to do so; and that 4-H club experiences increase the knowledge and skills of 4-H youth.

A third survey asked participants in 4-H science programs about their attitudes toward science and careers in science. Youth in the Illinois 4-H science sample agreed more strongly than their peers in two national surveys that they would like to have a job related to science when they graduate from high school. At the higher grades, youth in the Illinois sample were more likely to agree that they like science and are better at science than their peers in the national reports.

These surveys are important for a number of reasons. They provide measurable data to support the many first-hand stories that we hear from 4-H alumni and volunteers. The survey results help us to see that we are making significant progress toward the goals of the state and national 4-H programs. We now have data to support the claim that 4-H provides opportunities for youth to feel a sense of belonging, develop independence, practice generosity, and experience mastery.

They also suggest areas in which we can improve our programs – while the survey results were overwhelmingly positive, we can look at how each question was answered and determine which areas to focus on for the future. Youth and adults who are interested in helping us use these results to make decisions about local programs, are welcome to join our Expansion and Review Committee – just contact the Extension office at 815-875-2878 for details.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, sisters and other women who are a part of the 4-H program! Whether you are supporting your family’s 4-H member in his or her project work and club membership, serving as a 4-H volunteer, or both, we appreciate everything you do. You play an important role in helping young people develop into successful adults. I hope you are having a great weekend!

Jennifer Caldwell is the program coordinator for 4-H and youth development at the University of Illinois Extension — Bureau County.

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