4-H California Youth Development Program
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Sacramento County has 16 Community Clubs serving over 800 youth ages 5 to 19. Within each club, 4-H members choose to participate in a variety of projects according to their individual interests, each designed to promote growth in a fun, positive learning environment. The most important element of 4-H clubs is the role of youth as the leaders and drivers of the club: youth design and implement the events and activities, manage the budget, and provide peer coaching and support to each other. Adult volunteers provide mentorship and guidance to youth, forming important, lasting ties with young people. They help youth identify projects that spark their interest, develop a mindset that it is persistent effort that results in success, and coach them to set goals, pursue strategies, and shift gears when necessary to achieve those goals.
Program Successes
We have documented evidence from a nationwide longitudinal study conducted by Richard Lerner of Tufts University. The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development shows youth engaged with 4-H are:
- Nearly two times more likely to get better grades in school
- Nearly two times more likely to plan to go to college
- 41% less likely to engage in risk behaviors
- 25% more likely to positively contribute to their families and communities
Many children today - especially those from urban, economically disadvantaged communities - do not have the opportunity to understand nature through first-hand experience. Yet these children are the stewards of our future and the ecological health of our planet. For 20 years, 4-H On the Wild Side (OTWS) has provided avenues to learning and appreciation of the outdoor world for young people, most of whom have never slept under the stars. The project aims to enthuse and engage elementary school children in exploration, doing science and appreciating the outdoors while encouraging community involvement and developing leadership skills in teenagers. About 20 teens and their adult coaches work in partnership to plan and deliver two weekend camp programs for students attending schools in Sacramento's low-income neighborhoods. Approximately 140 4th-6th grade students attend the program annually. They rotate through teen-led activities to learn about the natural world and systems within it.
Program Successes
The program's well-documented impacts speak to the power of the experience to enhance knowledge, build skills, and provide a meaningful sense of service. Outcomes include:
- Learning about the natural world
- Increased pre- and post-test scores indicate growth in vocabulary, knowledge of scientific tools, and understanding of environmental concepts
- Creating positive feelings about science and the environment: 97% campers indicate a positive experience, including 81% who rated camp as excellent and 16% who rated camp as good
- Developing life skills in teens - Teens grow in public speaking and presentation skills, sharing their ideas with adults or other teens, and organizational skills. All teens strongly agreed that the project gave them the chance to work with people of different backgrounds, cultures and abilities.
- Developing a sense of service - Teens felt as though they had made an important contribution to their community through the project. The high retention rate of teens returning to the program from one year to the next indicates they feel their role is meaningful and that they enjoy the experience.
The 4-H Youth Experiences in Science (YES) Project provides high quality, children's science education in after school settings. YES harnesses the energy and enthusiasm of specially trained teenage volunteers to conduct the hands-on science curriculum for children five to eight years old. It offers planned, thematically linked science education experiences geared to the needs of children and after school program providers. The 4-H YES curriculum incorporates cross-age teaching, inquiry-based activities, and cooperative learning. Children do not learn about science, but become scientists themselves as they explore their world through the scientific thinking process. Between 250 and 500 students benefit from the semester-long YES Project each year. Teenage volunteers attend ten hours of training and upon completion, under the supervision of an adult coach, conduct the interactive science sessions in after school settings.
Program Successes
- Feedback from teens, coaches, parents and children themselves indicate that young program participants look forward to the YES Project sessions
- 86% of parents reported that their children wanted to continue in YES, and teens reiterate that finding
- Program evaluations of YES found the teens make excellent teachers and enjoy their role and responsibility
- 92% of teens reported feeling more confident in public speaking as a result of their YES experience
- The program provides new experiences for teenagers, a chance to make a real difference in their communities and opportunities to explore potential career choices
Water has become the new "California gold" as this limited and precious resource is a basic need for agriculture, people, and wildlife. As the demand for water increases, so does conflict between user groups and the need for understanding water conservation and keeping our waterways clean. Additionally, the US faces a significant challenge as young people are not prepared with the necessary scientific, engineering, and technological knowledge and skills to compete in the 21st century. The future of our workforce, and our communities, depends on a science-literate citizenry.

4-H Water Wizards is a 12-week project that teaches 4th-6th grade students about water and its importance to the planet. Delivered to over 400 children in after school settings annually, students participate in hands-on learning experiences that encourage inquiry, teach basic information about water, and develop awareness about this valuable resource. They explore the water cycle, watersheds and pollution, study water usage in their home, and conduct experiments exploring salinity, density, hardness, and taste (is bottled water really better?). Youth also take action on a water issue in their community. The program balances the need for critical information about water with discovery through the process of doing science. It also empowers kids to know they can make a difference in their communities.
Program Successes
The research team measured student learning in a sample of 240 students and found:
- Significantly higher post-test scores when compared to pre-test indicating knowledge gain.
- Over 80% of students reported using less water as a result of participating in 4-H Water Wizards.
- 98% of students said they enjoyed the project.
- 78% of after school program staff indicated that they better understood how inquiry relates to science as a result of leading the project.
For many youth, 4-H Summer Camp is one of the highlights of the 4-H year. As with all 4-H programs, camp is youth-led, and young people plan and deliver the program with adult support. Teens apply for a job - perhaps youth director, cabin leader, or craft coordinator - then meet regularly for several months with adult partners to create a safe, fun, and educational week for campers. The program is held at Camp Gold Hollow in Nevada City and accommodates up to 120 youth.
Program Successes
Annual program evaluations point to camp as an experience youth love:
- 82% of youth said they would definitely return to camp
- 15% were hopeful/maybe to return
- On open ended questions about what they learned at camp, 57% reported learning a new skill (canoeing, archery)
- 22% reported growing in life skills (how to listen, taking responsibility)
- 17% reported building relationships (how to be more open, making new friends)