Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on July 9, 2009. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
MSU 4-H rocks health initiative
By Steven Nalley
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Mississippi has been a driving force in helping expand the National 4-H Council’s “Health Rocks!” program from a regional experiment to a national standard in less than a decade.
Health Rocks! began as one of 4-H’s Youth-Adult Partnership programs, in which two teenagers lead their peers with the help of an adult facilitator. Initially, the goal was to establish an anti-smoking program that would target 10- to 14-year olds.
Mississippi State University Extension Service associate Landon Summers said 4-H gave creative control to a teenaged “think tank,” which resulted in an expanded health emphasis.
“The kids had a huge part in developing the activities,” Summers said.
He said that out of the eight states that initially participated in Health Rocks!, Mississippi implemented the program most successfully. As a result, MSU houses the national training center for Health Rocks!, which now operates in 49 states, two U.S. territories and two foreign countries.
“We’ve been in housing developments, the Urban League of Chicago -- you name it, we’ve been there,” Summers said. “It’s even started to take hold in some elementary schools as the main curriculum for their health education classes.”
As part of its Youth-Adult Partnership, the Health Rocks! Community Action Guide encouragess adult facilitators to let young people lead. Summers said part of the curriculum’s appeal is that it is not fixed, which means it allows room for both young volunteer teachers and their students to customize the course.
“The curriculum does not teach them what to think or what to say, but it does teach them the long-term and short-term effects of their choices,” Summers said. “Ninety percent of our teen teachers are mentors, and they start looking at things from a different view.”
Summers said the curriculum also gives students the opportunity to open up to others about their stressors and help each other deal with them. While its “Share Circle Cards” allow students to withhold anything they feel uncomfortable sharing, the process can build friendships, Summers said.
“The curriculum shows they’re not the only ones going through the same things,” Summers said. “They find the common ground to build a friendship, whether it be a short-term friendship or a long-term, best-friends-forever bond.”
The impact of Health Rocks! can be measured not only in its popularity on a statewide level, but also in the individual stories of its students and teachers.
MSU Extension 4-H agent Julie White said she saw this impact first-hand as a teacher for Health Rocks! in Webster County. She said the program reached 582 students at Eupora Elementary and East Webster Elementary.
“We conducted our program in the schools (Eupora Elementary and East Webster Elementary) since we do not have afterschool programs in our county,” White said. “Every third- through sixth-grade student was involved in the program.”
White said a counselor at one of the Webster County elementary schools stopped to talk to her one day about one fifth grader’s experience with a Health Rocks! activity called “The Chains That Bind.” In this activity, students write the five biggest stressors in their lives on strips of paper that become links in a chain. As they come up with ways to control those stressors, they tear up the links.
“The student’s parents were going through a divorce, and the student had been having a lot of trouble dealing with it,” White said. “The young lady said that when I asked them to make a paper chain, her No. 1 thing was divorce and how it affects more kids than just her.”
White said the student later tore up that link and told the counselor that the divorce no longer bothered her because White had taught her how to deal with it.
“Even though we may never know the full effect of this program on the youth of our country, we have helped one youth learn how to deal with her stress, and today that success is tremendous!” White said.