Juntos 4-H leadership academy gives teens a look at college life

July 10, 2017

Twenty-five 4-H’ers participate in five-day program held at Our Lady of the Lake University

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu

Contacts: Dr. Melinda Garcia, 210-631-0400, Melinda.Garcia@ag.tamu.edu

SAN ANTONIO – A group of ninth and 10th grade students from 4-H programs in predominantly low-income areas of San Antonio recently spent five days at Our Lady of the Lake University getting   firsthand experience with college life.

“We had 25 students from our Juntos 4-H program and St. John Berchmans’ Knights 4-H club, plus we had some home-schooled students who participated,” said Dr. Melinda Garcia, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program specialist, Bexar County, who coordinated the Juntos 4-H Summer Leadership Academy. “This was our second year of the leadership academy and most of the students who attend are considered at-risk.”

Students from this year’s Juntos 4-H Summer Leadership Academy at  of Our Lady of the Lake University. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Garcia said the Juntos 4-H program, which began three years ago at Leal Middle School, now has students attending Harlandale High School, with several of those students participating in this year’s  leadership academy. Also participating were members of the SJB Knights 4-H Club who are now in high school, along with home-schooled students at high-school level.         

“The goal of the program is to provide the students with a true higher education experience and teach them the need for personal responsibility, organization and time management,” Garcia said.

She said the students stay in the dorms, eat at the university cafeteria and go to classes on the OLLU campus.

“We address what it takes to be a leader as well as the tools and skills needed to be a success in school, in whatever career they may choose — and in life,” Garcia said.

Dr. Esther Gergen, chair of the department of leadership studies at Our Lady of the Lake University, was among the professors who gave their time at this year’s leadership academy.

“The leadership academy gives the students the rare opportunity to experience college and interact at that level,” Gergen said. “It’s especially helpful that this is being offered to at-risk youth, which fits well into our university’s mission to provide nontraditional educational opportunities to our students.”

Students take a test to see what personality traits they have to help them become leaders. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

Gergen and Dr. Phyllis Duncan, also with that department, gave the students a personality test to help them identify what traits they have or need to nurture in order to become leaders.

“We’re hoping to help keep these youth focused on education and developing those leadership abilities that will serve them in college,” Duncan said. “Among those are helping them understand the importance of emotional intelligence and working as part of a team. We want to give them a vision of who — and where — they can be in life.”

Garcia said one of the objectives of the Juntos 4-H program has been to get youth, especially minority youth, interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, subjects.

Dr. Charles Smith gives the students a science  demonstration. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

“We were also very fortunate to have Dr. Charles Smith, a professor at OLLU who has done numerous YouTube videos about science and chemistry, instruct the attendees on STEM topics during the week,” Garcia said. “In addition, Dr. Francine Danis, a retired OLLU professor, gave classes on writing.”

Smith, who gave STEM-related presentations during the week, said it was important to engage young people in those subjects.

“For there to be advancements in science and technology, different perspectives and viewpoints are needed,” he said. “It requires people from different areas and different cultures to understand what we need as a society — and to develop the inventions and technical innovations to address those needs.”

One of the participants, Angel Garcia Ruiz, 15, who will be a sophomore at Harlandale High School, has been in the Juntos 4-H program for three years.

“Through Juntos 4-H, I’ve also gotten to visit and tour the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University in College Station,” he said. “I’ve also made friends through the program and these friends help me with projects that involve teamwork and leadership. I’ve even learned about things like nutrition and STEM subjects.”

Ruiz said he also enjoys the 4-H emphasis on community service and helping others.

Leadership academy participants on the OLLU campus awaiting their next class. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg).

Bellicia Mejia, 14, who will be a freshman at Incarnate Word High School, said her involvement through the Knights 4-H Club at St. John Berchmans has “introduced me to STEM subjects and opened my eyes to all kinds of career possibilities.”

“I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I can do to help others,” she said. “I want to go to college and  travel and help people in underdeveloped countries. This is helping me expand my experiences and show me more of the possibilities for my life.”

Quentin Stiles, 16, a three-year member of the San Antonio Homeschoolers 4-H Club and the 4-H Entomology SPIN Club, has been involved in numerous activities offered through the youth organization.

“Through 4-H I’ve been involved in entomology, photography, food and nutrition, consumer decision making and veterinary science,” he said. “I enjoy the STEM subjects and learning about things like air pressure and veterinary science. I want to attend Texas A&M and study entomology and herpetology. Right now, my goal is to become a state game warden.”

Stiles said the leadership academy is “a great place to meet people and to learn.”

In addition to OLLU faculty, professors from other colleges also came to the leadership academy to provide instruction and expertise.

Dr. Rebecca Robles-Piña speaks to the students on social identity and bullying. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

“We had Drs. Galan and Ibarra from the University of the Incarnate Word present on food safety and nutrition,” Garcia said. “And we had Dr. Joe Mask from Texas A&M present a class on veterinary science. We also had Dr. Rebecca Robles-Piña, a professor and psychologist from the department of counselor education at Sam Houston State University, give the students a presentation on bullying.”

Mask instructed the students on handling pets as well as livestock. He also spoke about the importance of agricultural literacy.

“There are still some adults out there who think chocolate milk comes from brown or black cows,” he said. “It’s important people of all ages know and understand how vital agriculture is to all of us.”

Robles-Piña told the students while instances of bullying are reduced from middle school to high school to college, there will always be people trying to control or influence others.

“Times of transition can be a challenge, so it’s important to know where you want to be in terms of your social identity, who you want to be and where you want to fit in the scheme of things,” she said. “It’s also important to know how to deal with people who may be difficult or cause friction in your life.”

Garcia said she felt the leadership academy provided the breadth and degree of exposure to college life and “adult issues” she wanted for the students who participated.

“We’re really glad to have been able to give these students such a unique and powerful educational experience,” she said. “It’s the sort of experience these at-risk youth simply would not have access to unless they were involved in our 4-H programming.”

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