Extension’s Eco-Stewardship Program honored

WENATCHEE – Connecting at-risk youth with the natural environment and the life skills that go along with that has earned WSU Extension’s 4-H Eco-Stewardship Program recognition from National 4-H Headquarters.

Directed by WSU Chelan County Extension educator Kevin Powers, the 4-H Eco-Stewardship Program has been named a 4-H Program of Distinction in the Natural Resource Education Category for 2008. This is the first time a WSU Extension 4-H program has received the prestigious designation in this category.

“This award speaks to the innovation and quality WSU Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program delivers every day to the residents of our state,” said Linda Kirk Fox, associate vice president and dean of WSU Extension. “Leveraging the power of Washington’s beautiful, natural environment to develop life skills like team work, critical thinking and problem solving helps the young people who participate be more successful in school and at home.”

Learning by doing is the foundation of the 4-H Eco-Stewardship Program.

Approximately 3,000 students in north central Washington participate in the 4-H Eco-Stewardship Program. Working in outdoor classrooms, they learn the fundamentals of natural resource stewardship and management, including the basics of fish, wildlife and watershed ecology, by working in teams to complete community service projects. Program faculty members partner with local school districts to enhance the existing science curriculum with hands-on activities.

For example, Cascade High School students involved in the project built three bat hotels near the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery as an experiment in natural pest control.  Because one brown bat can eat up 1,000 mosquitoes an hour, the project is aimed at reducing pesticide use, reducing the threat of West Nile Virus and improving fish habitat.

The 4-H Eco-Stewardship Program also is intricately connected with the 4-H Challenge Program directed by Nick Farline, 4-H Experiential Programs coordinator in Chelan County. The Challenge Program brings at-risk and low-income youth to the woods for a number of hands-on activities, including ropes courses and other challenges. The common focus of the program centers on how the participants communicate and cooperate with other, solve problems, set goals, make decisions and build healthy relationships.

The results of the 4-H Eco-Stewardship Program are real and important, Powers said. “Some of the students are gang members before they participate, but not after completing the program,” he said. “Some have been in trouble with the law, but after the program have not become repeat offenders. The program provides them with the life tools they need to make better choices.”

The program has been honored by other organizations. It received the U.S. Forest Service “Caring for the Land” Award for outstanding environmental education programming in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the National Association of Counties Achievement Award for Educational Excellence involving youth in local government and service to community.

More information about the 4-H Eco-Stewardship and 4-H Challenge programs is available at www.ncw.wsu.edu.

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