Youth-Adult Partnership Spotlight–Winter 2022

How Are You(th) Supported?

What, or who, are you(th) supports made of?  Are in the ‘right place?  Whose design are you following?  Will everyone be comfortable inside the relationship, or even the conversation, when you are finished?

In my work with UW-Madison, Division of Extension in Community Youth Development, I have tried to find as many ways as possible to frame the supportive adult relationships aspect of 4-H/Positive Youth Development around diversity, equity and inclusion.  One of my first opportunities was through participation with Diversity Action Team programming, and over the past year, we’ve found different ways to build this out from including the call to action slides for youth audiences in the programs to developing learning opportunities in the community.

One area of focus has been educator outreach.  While this was initially a more general marketing conversation, which included analyzing current gaps in outreach and possible next steps, the priority area quickly became schools.  Beginning in February of 2021, we sought information from districts around the county to provide feedback on what they already knew about DAT and what kinds of strategies would be most helpful to them.  This relationship, my relationship with those who are in positions of supportive adult relationships is not new, simply newly expressed, but the idea of partnership, especially partnership with those who have marginalized experiences needs to remain centered.  Let me explain.

Peace Corps gave me my first opportunity to listen to and support educators.  As a resource to encourage community integration, Peace Corps paid for two sessions of eighty hours a piece.  My teacher was Oscar, a principal at one of the elementary schools receiving the program I was assigned to, Environmental Education.  We talked at first about basic topics like introductions and family.  I always made coffee.   The Guatemalan coffee I drank in most homes was made with a lot of sugar, but not milk products.  I introduced Oscar to the powdered creamer I bought in the Dispensa, the large grocery store affiliated with Walmart.  He had never known it existed, but from then on I noticed his kitchen shelf never went without it.  

Our coffee was smoother than class.  Oscar frowned that I asked “why” too much.  While he could write the majority of words with confidence, he protested that I wrote all the time in my notebook when my goal was to speak.  I couldn’t help the mismatch.  I needed structure.  I had never learned a language only by ear, but if I had a long list of random sounds and words to memorize, I would never figure out the language.  I sought a few select and integral components around which to organize the foreign and indiscernible sound chunks.  Still, isolated phrases, sometimes progressed to conversation.

“Achike’ nab’an wowe’?  What are you doing here?” Oscar asked.  This was a common practice question I managed in Kaqchikel that especially allowed me to interact with women I would meet on the street in town.  

“Yin.”  I. “Nu’ban.”  I do?  No.  “Xinb’an.”  I did?  No.  I searched for my verb conjugation cheat sheet and found “work”.  Work was intransitive so, “Yin yisamaj rikin ri akw’ala.”  Oscar squinted an eye.  Darn it, plural.  At least I recognized I did something wrong.  That was an improvement.  “Yin yisamaj kikin ri akw’ala”.  

What are you doing here?  That was my question.  That was THE question.  Oscar didn’t say “why”, “achike’ ruma’, to extend the Kaqchikel exercise, but it was implied.

Oscar and I sat facing each other over the wobbly but nicely grained wood table.  Like most furniture at home or school it was covered in a dusty plastic to protect it.  My homemade dictionary was open and evolving, complete with a silly drawing Oscar made of his face.  It was organized alphabetically in Spanish and the front and back covers had the quick guides for verb conjugations, counting, greetings, and other essentials.  He asked the same question, “Why are you here?”  He asked in Spanish this time.  There could be no mistake.

“To do ‘good’.”  I stumbled.  “Good” was that why I went into teaching?  I grappled.  “It seemed like the ‘right’ thing to do.”  “Right”, was that why I was here, in Guatemala?  I wanted to understand the students I had left behind in bilingual classrooms in WI.  “They” needed me?  Guatemala “needed” professionals.  Be good.  Do good.  Do good work.  

Do the work.  Do good work.  I hear those phrases in many circles today.  But, how do we know?  Organizations first attempt most often with surveys.  We did the same, and through our analysis of surveys, we gathered some of the initial information.  However, it was recommended by the youth and adults we consulted that an engaging next step would be to open the door further to youth voice in this area.

Oscar’s question returns.  What are you doing here?  And, why?

In an attempt to create a foundation for centering diversity and equity within supportive adult relationships, the resources in this blog post and an upcoming Diversity Action Team program will focus on what youth-adult partnership means when it comes to conversations about racial equity and social justice.  This session will be the beginning of a continued discussion of what it means to be supportive adults who engage in an important role as interpreters of the world and best practices to create brave and safe enough spaces for youth to develop skills and knowledge to initiate and participate in uncomfortable conversations.  

A complete program description is here as well as the link to register for the virtual February program.

Please join us in this conversation before or during the zoom session.  We will be collecting anonymous responses from youth and adults who work with youth in Rock County so I could use some help.  Do you have a story or know someone we could follow-up with in order to find out more about why we stay silent around tough conversations? I am partnering alongside Social Justice Edgerton to gather the responses in the formats that make the most sense for those interested.  They can be via a survey we provide, 1-1 interviews with interested individuals, small focus groups or alternative responses such as drawings, poetry or photography are also acceptable.

Participants can also add their comments to the following Padlets.  

Silence Speaks-Youth Feedback

Silence Speaks-Adult Feedback


First, I would consider the padlets above to be references to center us, as supportive adults, in what it means to engage with youth and understand what ‘good’ or ‘right’ mean in any context.  Second, below are a variety of opportunities to engage with self and others to explore your own interpretations of supportive adults with an equity framework.

Read Ratchetdemic: Reimagining Academic Success, a revolutionary new educational model that encourages educators to provide spaces for students to display their academic brilliance without sacrificing their identities”, or watch 

4-H Framework for considering youth and adult partnership, youth leadership and community engagement More will continue to be added.

Guided Experiential Learning opportunities developed through community education programming

Online Study Circles: American Indian Studies

Diversity Action Team Programs Call to Action Resources Summary

Search the SHARE catalog for our Rock County 4-H youth and family resources now available in family engagement bags and book clubs in a bag: American as Paneer Pie (SEARCH- Book Club in a Bag: American as paneer pie) and Separate is Never Equal (SEARCH-Book Club Bag Family : Separate is never equal : Sylvia Mendez & her family’s fight for desegregation)