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Tena St. Pierre and Claudia Mincemoyer from the Pennsylvania State University's Cooperative Extension Service1 describe lessons learned from implementation and evaluation of a complementary learning pilot program.

Last year's issue of The Evaluation Exchange on complementary learning inspired us to pilot-test an after school 4-H program linked with two elementary schools. Affiliated with each state's land grant university, the Cooperative Extension Service employs 4-H Extension Educators to offer research-based youth programming in every county in the United States. We at Penn State Cooperative Extension were drawn to complementary learning because it provides a framework to help schools understand the potential for connecting with 4-H to reinforce learning, strengthen life skills, and increase parent involvement.

For our program, we selected the existing Exploring the Treasures of 4-H national curriculum2—designed for second through fourth graders to promote positive youth development—because it contains hands-on activities that we could align with Pennsylvania academic standards. For example, a science activity that involves creating a mud suspension corresponds to a fourth-grade science and technology standard, and writing thank-you notes as a means of communication aligns with a third-grade reading and writing standard. The program involved active collaboration among teachers (e.g., program recruitment), principals (e.g., coordinating use of school resources), and parents (e.g., attendance at family dinners).

Initially, we faced challenges in recruiting schools and enrolling children. Though we approached several schools, only two joined the project, with 18 children taking part at one school and 8 at the other. Administrators at some schools were not interested in the program because it didn't directly help students prepare for testing required by No Child Left Behind. Using formative evaluation methods, including meetings with principals, teachers, and parents after the completion of the program, we learned valuable lessons about how to address these challenges next year and how to work toward building a broader complementary learning initiative:

1. Be persistent with administrators; emphasize tailoring the program to their needs. One principal at first seemed pessimistic about integrating the program in his school. When we learned of his desire to increase parent involvement, we were able to convince him that we would work with him to tailor the initiative to this and other school needs. He soon became an enthusiastic participant and even set up meetings for us with teachers to solicit their insights and opinions.

2. Communicate that the program stands to enhance academic learning. Although principals invited all third- and fourth-grade teachers to meet with us, just two teachers (of six) at each school agreed. At these meetings, we learned that teachers knew little about the program and did not promote it because they assumed 4-H programs consisted of activities geared toward rural youth. When they saw the diversity of program activities aligned with academic standards, they became enthusiastic. Teachers especially liked the science activities because they had eliminated hands-on science from their curriculum due to standardized test preparation.

3. Engage teachers as stakeholders in developing the program. Teachers offered a variety of ideas for involving more children in the program. These ideas included making sure all teachers understand the program's relevance to academic learning; combining the Treasures program with other after school activities, such as tutoring; holding an assembly to demonstrate a science activity; talking about the program at open houses and at PTO meetings; and describing it in the school newsletter.

Over the course of its first year, the program succeeded in establishing the foundations of complementary learning upon which we plan to build in the future. Our formative evaluation showed that, despite some challenges, the program engaged stakeholders. In the end-of-program parent survey, parents rated the program as excellent and said that they were satisfied with the activities. Teachers sent program invitations home with children and collected registration forms. Principals provided classroom space and identified parents to assist with after school sessions. Parents volunteered, attended family dinners, and learned about the program's reinforcement of learning and development. Nearly all strongly agreed that their child enjoyed attending and felt comfortable with staff. All agreed that their child seemed happier since taking part in the program, and all but one agreed that their child had a better attitude toward going to school.

Teachers have reported interest in participating in a summer workshop to brainstorm ways to expand next year's program into a more intentional complementary learning initiative tailored to each school's needs, which will be based on but not limited to the after school curriculum. We plan to use formative evaluation strategies to document ideas that teachers propose at the workshop and how the ideas are implemented during the coming school year. We are optimistic about the potential of these efforts and have an early indicator of success: The originally pessimistic principal volunteered to host the summer workshop.

1 We wish to acknowledge Nancy Stephenson and Roxanne Price, Extension Educators with Penn State Cooperative Extension, for their work in partnering with schools to implement this project.
2 The National 4-H Cooperative Curriculum System, Inc. (2005). Exploring the treasures of 4-H helper's guide. Washington, DC: The National 4-H Council.

Tena L. St. Pierre, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Tel: 814-865-0399

Claudia Mincemoyer, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Tel: 814-863-7851

Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
The Pennsylvania State University
437 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802

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