Youth from University of Minnesota Extension’s 4-H Youth Teaching Youth program received a Public Health Achievement Award from the Dakota County Board of Commissioners on April 5 as part of National Public Health Week. They were recognized for their work with students in five elementary and two middle schools in Farmington.
4-H’ers provided one-on-one mentoring to a smaller group of youth who had been identified by teachers as struggling socially and academically. This work resulted in significant breakthroughs for some youth.
According to the news release from Dakota County, “The high school youth mentors are positive role models who build healthy relationships with the younger students and help with academics.” While they highlighted the one-on-one mentoring done by 12 youth, they also stated that 330 fourth graders and 375 seventh graders have learned skills to prevent drug, alcohol and tobacco use during this school year through the program. Over 100 youth participate in 4-H Youth Teaching Youth in Dakota County.
Sarah Kortuem, counselor at Boeckman Middle School, nominated the youth. She recognized the commitment and collaborative work of Kirsten Pederson, Extension 4-H program coordinator; the 4-H youth mentors; and the students themselves, who have improved their respectfulness, grades and self-described efforts to be their “best self.” She wrote, “Developing healthy and positive relationships with peers and trusted adults is a protective factor for children and adolescents. It leads to higher academic achievement, better attendance, and stronger emotional well-being.”
Examples of the changes in youth have come forward. One mentee’s parent, during a check-in photo call with staff, commented that the child does not speak at home, and was surprised to hear that the child speaks with the mentor. A media specialist at a middle school observing the program noted that one child had been going through a difficult time. When he did the activity with his mentor, she was happy to see him smile because she had not seen him smile in weeks.
The board established the Public Health Achievement Awards in 2000 to recognize and honor the contributions of Dakota County residents who devote their time, energy and talents to creating a healthy future for their fellow county residents.