Winter 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW4

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The Me I Can Be

A one-day youth program like this offers an excellent way for county agents to begin addressing the youth at risk issue.

Maxine E. Casey
Extension Agent, Home Economics, Frederick County Office
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Maryland System-Frederick

Mary Ellen Waltemire
Extension Agent, 4-H and County Extension Director
Washington County
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Maryland System-Hagerstown

In Spring 1989, 17 eighth graders volunteered to spend their Saturday at the Washington County Board of Education's Outdoor Education Center for an intensive day of seminars and workshops called The Me I Can Be program. Since that first program, 100 eighth graders have participated. Speakers included state Extension agents, health department nurses, school guidance counselors, a physical education teacher, the county Young Life director, and community businesspeople. Building self-esteem, recognizing healthy relationships, and setting realistic goals are just some of the topics covered. Learning to resist negative peer pressure as it relates to drugs and sexual behavior is also a very important component of the program.

To gain the initial support of the Board of Education, we wrote letters to all the middle school principals, vice principals, and guidance counselors introducing The Me I Can Be program and asking for their help. We asked the counselors to identify and encourage the students they felt would benefit the most from this program.

Since the first The Me I Can Be day, some modifications have been made, but the content has remained the same. In response to feedback and evaluations from the counselors and participants, this program has been expanded and is now offered two times each year on school holidays.

This program is free to all students. Bus transportation and the use of the Outdoor Education Center is donated by the Board of Education. All other expenses have been covered from grant monies from the March of Dimes, Kiwannis Club, and some of the Maryland Agriculture Product Commodity groups.

Some people may question whether one self-confidence building day in the lives of eighth graders makes a difference. Although youth issues require more than a one-day program, we believe The Me I Can Be is a start. A follow-up survey also indicates one day has made a difference. A questionnaire was sent to all participants and their school counselors four months after the event. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents indicated that as a result of The Me I Can Be program, their self-confidence has increased. All respondents thought it should be offered to future eighth graders. Comments about the most important thing I learned that day were: "About relationships and to take it slow!" "That you should learn to take control." "That I can be as good of a person as anyone else." Seventy-three percent asked to be on the teaching team for future programs.

A one-day youth program like this offers an excellent way for county agents to begin addressing the youth-at-risk issue.