4-H Teen Teacher Corps provides youths an opportunity to contribute to their communities

A teenage girl, one of the 4-H Teen teachers

Oregon State University Extension Service 4-H faculty and staff in the Portland area have helped train and support migrant education summer school classroom teachers to deliver hands-on science projects to students. When it was conceived, the goal of the 4-H Teens as Teachers Corps was to train and support youths from migrant farmworker families in the Portland area to expand the summer school program. These teen leaders, who would be drawn from high schools in the Multnomah Education Service District (MESD) and underserved urban and rural communities, would plan, teach and deliver nutrition, food, agriculture, and garden lessons to youths ages 6-12. As the program was about to start in 2020 all Oregon schools closed due to start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, program organizers refocused their efforts and moved to exclusively online learning. The 4-H Teen Teacher Corps online course is a 20-hour course and included eight modules. Each week students were expected to complete two to three hours of online assignments and participate in a one-hour weekly meeting with the instructors and other students. These weekly meetings were hosted in hybrid format. The teen teachers learned skills and knowledge in positive youth development, leadership, child development, teaching strategies, group management and much more. Teen teams were given specialized training in one of three tracks: cooking, nutrition and healthy living; agriculture and garden education; and youth entrepreneurship.

At the end of their training, they were given a certificate of completion, a $150 training stipend and a 4-H Teen Teacher T-shirt to wear while teaching. Teen teachers were assigned one of three age group tracks – pollinators (grades K-2), gardening (grades 3-6), or food entrepreneurs (grades 7-8). In addition to their farm/ag lessons, each age group track also received a weekly lesson in cooking and nutrition designed especially for their age group.

As a result, a total of 89 teens were recruited and trained for the program in 2020 and 2021. The effort featured the development of 12 online learning modules and a Teen Teacher Corps website. Teen Teachers in the summer 2020 program made 114 instructional videos for the 300 younger youths participating in the MESD migrant education summer school. These videos accompanied the activity kits that were distributed each week. In many videos, teens taught in both English and Spanish. More than 1,100 take home activity kits were distributed to the summer school participants. These kits included materials, supplies and lesson instructions for their assigned class. Each family received a nutrition activity kit for each of the three weeks.

Thirty-two teen teachers responded to an end-of-course evaluation, reporting significant leadership gains as a result of this program. The pilot test of the online course had many benefits:

  • It was valuable for reaching the greatest number of youths in many geographically diverse communities, both large and small.
  • During the COVID-19 prevention lockdowns it provided teens an opportunity to still engage with the community with farm-to-school programs.
  • It provided teachers and Extension 4-H staff with new and innovative ways to engage teens that are largely underserved by farm-to -school programs.

While these are strong and positive outcomes for this online course, the biggest takeaway Portland 4-H faculty and staff learned from the youths is that the personal connections they made during the online Zoom meetings and their communication and mentoring from 4-H staff were what they valued the most.

Extension has taken the information we gathered from the teen evaluations, input from the 4-H faculty in the six participating counties – Multnomah, Clackamas, Grant, Baker, Malheur and Marion – and developed the framework for a new 4-H Teen Teacher Corps website and a new and improved Teen Teacher hybrid course that will give equal weight to both in-person and online training. It also became abundantly clear that teens need and value the opportunity to use their time, talents and voice to make a meaningful contribution to their community. In 2022, the 4-H Teen Teacher Corps program will be open to all educators in Oregon.