4-H Leadership Program Implemented in Keokuk Middle School

Written by Theresa Rose on October 22, 2015

This trimester, 113 Keokuk Middle School students have been tossing flamingos, constructing towers while blindfolded, and practicing meditation. These activities are all part of Ricochet, a middle school leadership initiative created and sponsored by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Iowa 4-H. Emily Benjamin, ISU Extension and Outreach Lee County Youth Educator has been partnering with Keokuk Middle School life skills teacher Kristopher Hayes to implement this program in his 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classes. The activity-based curricula provides opportunities for students to experience, practice and understand their own leadership skills as well as the skills of their classmates.

“It is really designed to increase awareness of leadership amongst students,” says Benjamin. “Initially, they’ll tell me that leaders are presidents, principals, mayors, teachers, etcetera. When asked if they have leadership skills most reply no, at first. As soon as we begin the activities they quickly begin to recognize that there is more to leadership than they’ve considered. They start to recognize leaders amongst their group of friends, their classmates, their teachers, parents, and themselves. It’s a really neat thing to watch.”

Five different modules are covered in Ricochet: Leadership Information, Leadership Attitude, Communication, Decision Making, and Stress Management. The curricula is an example of the 4-H Experiential Learning Model: Do, Reflect, Apply. Before most activities students are told that they’ll only be told the instructions one time and that no questions will be answered before they make an attempt. The instructions are deliberately vague, forcing the students to really think it over and work together to figure out how to complete the challenge or activity they’re given. Occasionally, they fail, or the whole team unravels. They are then encouraged to keep trying, to “fail forward” and learn from their failed attempts.

“I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to partner with KMS on this,” says Benjamin. “Mr. Hayes has been phenomenal to work with and the students at KMS have surpassed my expectations. The staff must be given credit for instilling the values of K-Pride within the student body. They take K-Pride very seriously. They come to class responsible, respectful and ready to learn. There are problems that arise within each group and sometimes it is an attitude issue, a communication issue or a personality conflict; but Mr. Hayes and I agreed from the beginning to take the extra time to address the issues that arise and let each class progress at its own pace. I think that this flexibility has allowed each class to have an experience that is unique, realistic, and applicable to their everyday experiences as middle schoolers.”

With the success of the first trimester, there are plans to expand the Ricochet program at KMS. Ricochet is a 3-part curriculum. Currently all three grade levels are going through the Ricochet 1 experience. Next year 7th and 8th graders will participate in Ricochet 2, while 6th graders will complete Ricochet 1 and the following year all 3 sets of curriculum will be utilized as 6th graders complete Ricochet 1, 7th graders complete Ricochet 2 and 8th graders will complete Ricochet 3.

“The only real boundary we face is coming up with funding for supplies. We’ll be applying for grant funding this year to continue the program,” says Benjamin.

To learn more about the program, visit www.extension.iastate.edu/4h/ricochet or contact Benjamin at 319-835-5116 or ebenj@iastate.edu.

About the Iowa 4-H Youth Development Program
4-H is the youth program of America’s Cooperative Extension Service and is the nation’s largest youth development organization, serving more than 6 million young people across the United States with programs in leadership, citizenship, communication and life skills.

One in five Iowa school-age youth participates in Iowa State University Extension and Outreach 4-H Youth Development programs, headquartered at the Iowa State University campus in Ames and available through ISU Extension and Outreach offices in all Iowa counties. 4-H is supported by federal, state and county funding, private grants and donations, and fees. For more information about joining 4-H, contact your ISU Extension and Outreach county office.