Youth Futures helps under-represented groups overcome education barriers
MANHATTAN, Kan. – A program designed to help under-represented or at-risk youth in Kansas find their way to college has been given a vote of confidence from the National 4-H Council.
Aliah Mestrovich Seay, a Kansas 4-H specialist for new audiences, said that the 4-H program in Seward County recently received a grant for $57,000 to continue building a program that has given more than 100 middle school students in the southwest area an opportunity to visit a college campus – most of them for the first time.
In January, Kansas 4-H launched a college and career readiness mentoring program in Seward County with students at South Middle School in Liberal.
“This program started small and now it’s becoming sustainable with the 4-H Youth Futures grant,” Mestrovich Seay said. “We can now continue these efforts to expose kids to a whole new world, with so many opportunities.”
Mestrovich Seay said that the program began in 2015 with a $10,000 grant from Kansas State University’s Center for Engagement and Community Development (CECD). It was called a College and Career Readiness Initiative, and focused on helping youth and families in southwest Kansas.
The college visits focus on exposure to science, technology, engineering, agriculture and mathematics (STEAM), she said. The youth also get a chance to meet with representatives from academic and administrative departments, learning more about such things as financial aid, taking the SAT or ACT, and more.
Some of the youth at South Middle School were among those who have attended events at Dodge City Community College and Kansas State University since 2015. Mestrovich Seay said, with help from Kansas State University, the program provided busing, overnight housing and meals to the students while they were visiting the campus.
Debra Bolton, an extension specialist in family and consumer sciences in southwest Kansas, has been conducting multi-lingual studies with individuals and families in that region for the past eight years. She provided data based on 751 surveys and 130 face-to-face interviews that helped to land the initial $10,000 grant.
She said that in research with Hispanic and other non-White populations in southwest Kansas, “there was a 14 percent increase in respondents who said that having an education will help my family live a better life.”
“Education is a priority for these families, but qualitatively we found that they experience more barriers to gaining access to education,” Bolton said.
She cited data that indicates that 54 percent of non-White populations say that having an education would help them to live better lives, as opposed to 16 percent of White respondents. But, just 2 percent of non-Whites have a bachelor’s degree compared to 18 percent of White respondents, and in fact 61 percent of non-White respondents do not have a high school diploma.
“When we were interviewing families, they talked about their inadequacies in being able to support their kids with school, meaning financially, academically and socially, so they seemed less involved,” Bolton said. “Some of the superintendents and principals we talked to saw this as a sign that the parents don’t care about their children’s education. There was a huge contrast of ideas.”
Vicky Yorio is the site coordinator for the 4-H Youth Futures pilot program at South Middle School. She conducts weekly lessons focused on college readiness, and works to pair mentors with each middle school student.
“I’m trying to create positive, attainable goals focused on academic achievement and citizenship,” said Yorio, whose class includes 35 students, many of whom do not currently speak English. “These students will gain experience in leadership, help plan programs, and prepare for college.”
The Seward County pilot program will continue through the end of this year, and will be dependent on additional funding. Mestrovich Seay said at least two other counties are already expressing interest in 4-H Youth Futures, and hope to secure funding to begin their own programs soon.
The $10,000 grant through the university’s CECD office ends this year. Dodge City Community College and the K-State Research and Extension office in Ford County will host the next College and Career Readiness Day on April 20.
“We need to continue to support youth in finding a road map beyond high school, to college and beyond,” Mestrovich Seay said. “The events that we held with the CECD grant were highly successful, based on the positive responses from youth and families. Kids are saying, ‘I like the engineering session’ or ‘I like learning about things.’
“There are so many opportunities out there if they can find a tangible road map to college. And with these programs, they are finding that.”