- Author: Marianne Bird
75% of 4-H teens who taught the Youth Experiences in Science Project to younger youth reported more confidence in public speaking and all felt they had made an important contribution to their community through the project.
In 2015, only 38% of 4th grade students in the U.S. scored at or above proficient in science. The gap in science literacy is especially prominent for youth of color. The need to improve scientific knowledge and critical thinking is pressing as these young people are the decision-makers and problem-solvers of tomorrow.
California communities also need active, involved citizens of all ages. Through service-learning projects, youth see themselves as leaders, learn to appreciate the value of contributing to their communities, and strengthen their skills for the workforce. The future of our workforce, and our communities, depends on a science literate and engaged citizenry.
How UC Delivers
During the 2018-19 school year, 17 teenagers delivered the 4-H Youth Experiences in Science Project (YES Project) to 334 five to eight year-olds attending afterschool or summer programs in Sacramento. The 4-H YES Project, created by UC ANR through a National Science Foundation grant, is a teen-led curriculum designed to engage younger youth in inquiry and discovery. It is both a science education program for children and a service-learning opportunity for teenagers.
After attending 10 hours of training and equipped with science kits and enthusiasm, teen volunteers led weekly science sessions to encourage children to ask questions and seek answers through observation and experimentation. Utilizing bubbles, snails, worms, and recyclables, teenagers averaged two hours a week working in teams with peers and an adult coach to organize and deliver their lessons. They committed to one semester (though many volunteered for a year or more) and taught at nine sites, all in schools where at least 50% of students qualified for free or reduced lunches. Sixty-five percent of youth who participated were African American or Hispanic.
The program encourages problem-solving and an interest in science. For teens, it provides new experiences, a chance to make a real difference in their communities, and opportunities to explore potential career choices.
Feedback from teens and their coaches indicate that young program participants look forward to the YES Project. “The kids get so excited when they see us,” said one teen when asked about her favorite part of the program, “and that's so sweet!” In addition, as a result of their YES experience, 75% of teens reported feeling more confident in public speaking and 66% said they had improved their planning skills. All reported feeling as though they had made an important contribution to their community.
Research shows that such civic engagement for teenagers is positively associated with gains in education attainment and income. It also suggests that “among youth, volunteering plays a valuable role in shaping how youth learn to interact with their community and develop the skills, values and sense of empowerment necessary to become active citizens.” In this way, UC ANR increases effective public leaders and civic engagement, contributing to the public value of developing a qualified workforce for California.