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Juntos 'Together' 4-H program inspires Latino teens to pursue education dreams

Juntos 4H Program Participants with U of I's Alma Mater, Urbana-Champaign IL

MOLINE, Ill. – After participating in the Juntos 4-H program, Elida Gomez noticed, “My daughter was able to see options for her future. It’s opened her eyes to the importance of studying and the need to prepare to achieve her goals.” Her daughter Adriana, who is in 9th grade, was among a group of 34 teens aged 10 to 17 from Rock Island County that participated in the Juntos 4-H program offered through University of Illinois Extension. The program brings Latino teens and parents together to promote high school graduation and higher education.

Jenny Garner, county Extension director, said the program aims to provide support where it’s needed. “While the Hispanic drop-out rate continues to decline, it is still significantly higher than the high school drop-out rates for black, white or Asian students,” said Garner.

Juntos 4-H clubs help family members support youth by providing seminars that bring the families together for activities that prepare youth to achieve success through high school graduation, pursuit of post-secondary education, and sustained employment. In Rock Island County, Juntos 4-H offered two series that included five different workshops, outside presenters, and college visits to help show the teens and their families that high school graduation and higher education are attainable goals.

The program was locally organized by 4-H Educator Diane Baker and Juntos 4-H Site Coordinator Maria “Monse” Monserrat Magallon-Perez. Monse, who is bilingual, was able to share all of the information in both English and Spanish, benefitting the majority of the families who speak Spanish at home. She said, “By including their parents we were able to heighten family awareness of the value of school success, high school graduation, and setting goals for higher education.”

Baker and Magallon-Perez say Juntos 4-H is succeeding. Thirty percent of attendees said they have changed their future goals, while others gained important insights to help their plans to attend college. This includes Diego Gonzalez, age 15, who wants to become an aerospace engineer. Gonzalez said, “I’ve always wanted to go to college but I didn’t know anything about registering or filling out scholarships. I’ve learned all that from this program.”

The majority of participants also said they feel more knowledgeable about their college and career options, and understand the importance of success in high school and continuing education.

Many of the participants said their college visits were their favorite part, including Emily Martinez who said, “I liked exploring the universities and getting to know the colleges more. It makes me realize how important it is to have good grades to get in, and to save money!”

Offered in partnership with the Boys and Girls Teen Center in Moline, Ill, the Rock Island County Juntos 4-H workshops were funded by a grant from Global Communities, an international non-profit organization that works closely with communities worldwide to bring about sustainable changes that improve the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable people.

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Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.