Programs of Distinction is a recognition program that highlights high-quality youth development programs within Cooperative Extension occurring in communities across the United States. These programs exhibit strong program development characteristics and contribute to the field; convey new ideas, materials or innovative methods; and demonstrate changes in knowledge, behaviors, attitudes or aspirations of youth and adults. Programs of Distinction are supported by the 4-H system partners and coordinated through 4-H National Headquarters, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Smart Bodies Program was recognized as a Program of Distinction in 2007. Smart Bodies is a comprehensive, nutrition education and physical activity program designed to help promote child wellness. Smart Bodies integrates classroom activities with hands-on learning to teach elementary school children how to build strong bodies and develop active minds. Smart Bodies consists of three components: 1) the Louisiana Body Walk, an interactive exhibit representing the human body; 2) the OrganWise Guys, characters that educate and encourage children to practice healthy habits; and the 3) Take 10! curriculum, which is a classroom-based nutrition education and physical activity program. Launched in March 2005, Smart Bodies is the result of a public-private partnership between the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center (LSU AgCenter) and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation (BCBS), the charitable subsidiary of the state's largest health insurer.
Youth Wetlands Education and Outreach Program
The Youth Wetlands Education and Outreach Program was recognized as a Program of Distinction in 2009. The Youth Wetlands Education and Outreach Program is a statewide program consisting of environmental education lessons and hands-on activities, designed to heighten the awareness of Louisiana's youth to the unprecedented problem of wetland loss. Program materials -- including structured lesson plans, supplies and step-by-step procedures to activities -- are provided for educators to implement throughout the academic year. During the summer months, students are encouraged to attend four summer camps associated with the program and participate in wetland restoration efforts. The program promotes awareness, ownership and empowerment in youth by immersing students in a concentrated curriculum of wetland-related environmental studies. The Youth Wetlands Education and Outreach Program provides youth with direct experience and increased knowledge of environmental action skills to instill in students that they can make a meaningful contribution to preserving, conserving and restoring Louisiana's wetlands.
Louisiana 4-H Youth Leadership Boards
The Louisiana 4-H program is committed to developing leadership skills in youth by providing opportunities for youth voice. One of the methods in which leadership skills are developed and enhanced is through the State 4-H Leadership Board experience. These Leadership Boards give youth the opportunity to work together on a common focus, develop leadership skills and enhance statewide 4-H programs. Five statewide youth boards are offered and engage 125 youth on an annual basis as well as numerous adult volunteers and professional 4-H faculty members. Program evaluations indicate that 100 percent of participants were able to think independently and have a positive feeling about their future. Ninety-seven percent increased their subject-matter knowledge related to the board they served on, mastered leadership skills and improved their ability to communicate with others.
Risk Management Think Tank: Protecting Youth & Adults in Overnight Settings
Providing a safe environment for youth is an essential element for effective youth development programs. Youth and adult volunteers in overnight settings play a critical role in supporting developmentally appropriate environments for youth. As they serve as positive role models, overnight chaperones and camp counselors help develop life skills and character traits in youth. In order to provide a safe, positive environment, the Risk Management Think Tank provides volunteers with the knowledge and tools to lead a positive, successful overnight event.
The Risk Management Think Tank has four components:
- A background screening process ensures that youth and adults are free from background concerns.
- A three-to-six-hour training covers youth development principles, discipline, youth and adult protection, health and safety and crisis management.
- A job description ensures volunteers understand their responsibilities.
- A code of conduct form documents that volunteers understand the behavioral expectations of them in their roles as overnight chaperones.
Ninety-eight percent of participants gained information on how to create a positive environment for youth. Of those, only 31 percent indicated they had received any related training previously. Training and screening tools are critical to provide safe environments for youth while increasing satisfaction among volunteers.