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Schools Urged to Seek Out Cooperative Extension Service Links

In rural Jackson County, Ga., one 4-H group created a summer camp aimed at reducing high dropout rates and making a difference in the community.

The middle and high school 4-H members planned and organized the program for hand-picked kindergarten through 2nd graders, adults volunteered to monitor classes, and two elementary teachers trained 4-H members on curriculum and instructional techniques.

The result? Eighty-one percent of elementary participants improved their reading levels, and 4-H members boosted their leadership skills.

Federal officials have highlighted this Hooked on Books program as an example of how Cooperative Extension System programs such as 4-H can help low-achieving schools, particularly those in rural areas that might find it difficult to find partnerships.

The U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Agriculture committed this spring to work together to increase awareness of partnership opportunities and resources available through USDA-supported 4-H youth development programs and Cooperative Extension System programs.

Cooperative Extension System programs are the efforts by the nation's 100-plus land-grant colleges and universities to extend their resources to solve public issues through non-formal, non-credit programs. The programs mostly are administered through local offices, and both the universities and their local offices are supported by the USDA. 4-H is the country's largest youth development organization and a program of the Cooperative Extension System.

Rural school leaders might not know how to access extension offices, but they are in every state and nearly every county.

John White, the U.S. Department of Education's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach, said Hooked on Books is one of the many ways in which 4-H programs can add value to rural schools. This kind of program could be used by rural schools that have received federal Title 1 School Improvement Grants and need community partnerships to implement their turnaround efforts, he said.

Officials believe these partnerships will help create sustainable change and create programs specific to the school community's needs.

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