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College of Human Ecology

K-Staters, Kansas 4-H'ers attend White House Conference on Kids

Friday, August 25, 2006

DENVER - Boys who fall behind girls in reading and writing in elementary school can be at greater risk for developing learning disabilities, illiteracy, substance abuse or dropping out of school altogether.

Falling behind need not lead to an unproductive life, though, said Elaine Johannes, Kansas State University Research and Extension family studies and human services specialist focusing on the teen years.

Johannes, who has just returned from a regional White House Conference aimed at "Helping America´s Youth," in Denver Aug. 2-4, said that a little tender, loving care from family, school and community can stimulate learning and help to create an environment that allows a child to grow and develop essential life skills.

Intervention can be a life-changing experience, but it truly does take family, school and community working together to make it happen, she said.

The conference, which drew representatives from Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming, focused on issues facing America´s teens and particularly teen boys.

With First Lady Laura Bush serving in a leadership role, the White House Conferences are part of a federal initiative to build a network of resources to help teens and their families and communities build life skills that contribute to positive behaviors, said Johannes, who has previous experience with the United States Department of Agriculture´s Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) programs.

K-State Research and Extension 4-H area youth development specialist, Beth Hinshaw, and two Kansas 4-H members, Aaron Kadavy, representing the Kansas River Valley Extension District, and Karissa Pankratz, from Harper County, completed the K-State/4-H conference team. Kadavy and Pankratz were selected because each currently serves on the Kansas 4-H Youth Council, which is charged with creating opportunities for kids and making them happen.

Kadavy, who is a senior at Republic County High School, said that he felt better informed about the potential long-term effects for teens that are less interested in school, extracurricular activities and community life.

In thinking about it, it does seem like girls are eager to take advantage of new opportunities that boys may shy away from, he said.

To encourage participation and opportunities, Kadavy cited the conference Web site - www.helpingamericasyouth.org - as one of the pluses related to the conference.

"The Web site is not complete yet, but already offers some community assessment tools and ideas for creating opportunities that will appeal to teens, and especially boys, he said.

While one highlight of the conference was seeing and hearing First Lady Laura Bush speak, Kadavy said the real message is the fact that we all need to work to develop opportunities that will help families, teachers, school and community groups work together.

Pankratz, a sophomore at Argonia High School, praised the speakers: "They are passionate about their interest and their subject, and communicate that energy ... makes those who listen want to get busy and do something."

Working with Hinshaw, who advises Kansas´ 4-H´s Youth Council, the two teens will share ideas from the White House Conference at the 2006 Kansas Youth Leadership Forum Nov. 17-19 at Rock Springs 4-H Center in Junction City, Kan.

Teens (ages 14-18) need not be 4-H members to attend, Hinshaw said. The leadership development conference is an opportunity for teens to learn new skills to take back to their clubs, schools and communities.

Families have issues and so do communities, but working together to reach out to teens has the power to change lives, she said. Spending after school hours in a 4-H or other after-school program, such as those offered by community Boys and Girls Clubs, provides a safe environment and an opportunity for skill building activities.

Developing a local mentoring program is another idea, Johannes said.

"The conference stimulates discussion and follow-up work together to build programs for youth that will encourage learning and a brighter future for the teens and the communities in which they live," Johannes said.

More information on the conference and K-State Research and Extension programs that foster youth development are available by contacting Johannes at 785-532-5773 or Kansas 4-H and the 4-H Youth Leadership Forum through any county or district Extension office. More information about parents, families, youth and community is available on Extension´s Web site: www.oznet.ksu.edu. Information about Kansas
4-H can also be accessed at www.kansas4h.org.

Story by:
Nancy Peterson
K-State Research and Extension

This article was posted on Friday, August 25, 2006, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services.