4-H Study of Positive Youth Development

The Reconnection and Replication of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development is in collaboration with Dr. Jacqueline Lerner at Boston College. This grant aims to extend and replicate the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development.

From 2002 to 2012, Drs. Lerner and Lerner conducted the nation’s and the world’s first longitudinal study of the nature and bases of thriving across the adolescent years. The study involved over 7,000 youth across Grades 5 to 12 from 42 states.  The main findings indicated that when PYD – defined as Competence, Confidence, Connection, Caring, and Character – was promoted by youth development programs, youth would contribute positively to their communities and, by the end of the high-school years, become active and engaged citizens. These relations were especially true for 4-H youth and, in particular, for 4-H girls.

The study also identified three key facets of youth programs effective in promoting PYD, facets that are hallmarks of the 4-H Theory of Change: 1. Positive and sustained relationships between a young person and an adult; 2. Life-skill building activities; and 3. Opportunities for youth participation in and leadership of valued activities in family, school, or community settings.

Across more than 100 publications and even more talks around the nation and world, Drs. Lerner and Lerner, and their students explained that 4-H was an exemplar of a youth program that transformed PYD into contributions vital for enhancing families, communities, and ultimately the institutions of civil society and democracy. They predicted that, as adults, 4-H youth would become leaders of a vibrant America.

With this new study, we will try to demonstrate that this prediction is true.  The research team is reconnecting with the participants of the original study, who are now young adults. The team is collecting information about work activities, health and well-being, and, especially, the family, community, and national contributions and civic engagement of these young people. In addition, to extend the youth-development leadership of 4-H programs to the current generations of American youth, the research team is conducting a small replication of the original 4-H study.

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