Positive Youth Development score helps young people consider education

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

Riley Mengarelli says he would not have gotten very far without learning how to speak in public.

"It's an enormous asset," he said. "Not only in college, but in my career now. It's something I use constantly that I attribute to FFA."

Growing up in Toppenish, Wash., Mengarelli was involved in 4-H before joining the FFA at Granger High School, where he worked on a cattle herd for a Supervised Agricultural Experience, as well as steer projects and various competitions. Mengarelli carried the herd through college at Washington State University, graduating in 2009.

Now a credit officer in the agribusiness division for Northwest Farm Credit Services in Moses Lake, Wash., Mengarelli always intended to go into an agriculture-related business.

"Starting young and getting involved in those types of projects helped that," he said.

In an eight-year study, Tufts University and the Institute for Applied Research and Youth Development were able to track the results of youth involvement, said Donald Floyd, president and CEO of the National 4-H Council.

Through 4-H, participants are two times more likely to get better grades in school and to plan to go to college, and 41 percent less likely to engage in risky behavior, Floyd said.

"What you have is a young person who's ready to step up and lead in a complex and changing world," he said. "What you find is that 4-H folks are the heads of your Parent-Teacher Association, president of the fire company, people involved in your church groups and school boards that are actively involved in the community."

The strong Positive Youth Development score, or PYD score, helps students think about applying to college because they can apply different sets of life development skills, Floyd said.

To achieve that score, Tufts measured the competence, confidence, connection, character and caring of young people. Floyd called it the "Five Cs." The 4-H model has three components to it: A long-term relationship with a caring adult, the development of leadership skills put into practice and life skills learned in a variety of ways.

For example, Floyd said, students in 4-H are currently working on a project on the Gulf Coast using global positioning systems to map the oil coming on shore from the BP spill.

The typical 4-H age range is from 9 to 19, Floyd said, and students can continue on through collegiate 4-H clubs. Many give back by volunteering in their community or 4-H clubs.

Adding a specific career interest to the qualities one picks up in 4-H can positively affect a student's career trajectory, he said.

4-H is able to accelerate a female student's career trajectory, particularly into the sciences.

"If you have a high PYD score if you're a girl and you've had a good experience in the sciences, you will go on to college and study the sciences," he said. "That's huge, because most girls get turned off by science by about the sixth grade, so we can change that trajectory."

Washington State FFA Executive Secretary Jodi Monroe said the organization's programs put students in touch with supervised agricultural experiences connected to the classroom.

"They're competing in career development events," she said. "All of that is about leadership. That pushes them into college."

It gives participants exposure to many opportunities, Monroe said.

Kim Kidwell, Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences associate dean of academic programs, said involvement in such programs helps students develop the ability to connect with each other and take pride in competition, while learning about a discipline, often in teams.

"For a lot of the majors we have in our college where science interfaces with society, that skill set is highly translatable," she said. "That experience of interacting with people and talking about scientific subjects, whether or not they realize that's what they're doing, is really great practice for what it's like to be in the environment."

The people skills students develop give them an edge, Kidwell added, enabling them to be curious and ask questions.

Mengarelli urges students to get involved early in all competitions.

"I think that's where a lot of skills are built," he said. "Competing later on is also helpful, but if I were to do it again, I would do more public speaking. That's something you're going to use in any kind of job you get. You're going to have to talk to people and learn those interpersonal skills."

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