PANHANDLE PERSPECTIVES: Pilot program has teens as teachers for elementary students

       A pair of Scottsbluff High School Students, one who graduated in 2017 and one who will be a senior in the fall, are exchanging roles this summer, becoming teachers to younger students at a Scottsbluff elementary school.

      Teens as Teachers is a pilot program that Nebraska Extension is trying in Scotts Bluff, Hall, Madison and Colfax counties. According to local coordinator Leo Sierra, Teens as Teachers is aimed at providing positive learning experiences to under-served audiences by youthful teachers who look like them.

      Sierra works in the Scotts Bluff County Extension office, coordinating a pair of programs in local schools designed to engage youth who have not traditionally been a part of the 4-H clientele.

      The two high-school-students-turned teachers have spent the past several weeks developing learning activities based on 4-H curriculum and have been carrying out the activities with summer school attendees at Roosevelt Elementary School in Scottsbluff.

      Sierra coordinates the 4-H mentoring program in Scotts Bluff County and also the TEAMS program. TEAMS (Together Everyone Achieves More Success) is designed to improve middle-school and high-school students’ chances of staying in school, graduating and attending college. It provides students and parents with experience in skill-building, networking, mentoring, resources and exposure to the college atmosphere.

      The two Teens as Teachers – Luis Cordova and Llicel Rodriguez – worked to recruit young students who are attending summer school at Roosevelt Elementary to participate in a series of six lessons.

      Sierra has helped Cordova and Rodriguez set program goals, select curriculum, create lessons plans and develop recruitment strategies. Cordova and Rodriguez have also received training in leadership, developing curriculum, and other useful skills such as lesson planning, leadership team development, experiential learning and communications.

      Cordova and Rodriguez each developed a series of activities based on the 4-H curriculum, and in recent weeks have been taking the Roosevelt students through the sessions. They will also share these lessons in July with students at the migrant school at Educational Service Unit No. 13. They also will help the local 4-H program with other projects this summer, working along with other summer 4-H interns.

      Cordova, a senior-to-be at Scottsbluff High School, developed and presented three sessions. The first is an introduction to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in which the students build a crane. The lesson helps them understand machines, such as a lever and pulley, and apply that knowledge.

      The second lesson is an electrical circuit. The youngsters learn about the power source, positive and negative terminals, and conductivity. Using copper tape, they combine a three-dimensional figure with LED lights. The circuit is hidden so only the LED can be seen.

      The third lesson consists of building a paper structure to support books. The goal is to make a structure to hold as many books as possible, using pipe cleaners, regular paper and construction paper.

      The other teen teacher, Llicel Rodriguez, is a graduate of Scottsbluff High School who will attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney in the fall. Her three lessons focus on medicine, her passion.

      First is basic biology. The students make DNA chains, candy cells, and clay brains; they place objects in the brains to represent tumors, and remove the tumors.

      The second activity, “heart in action,” illustrates concepts related to the body’s cardiovascular system: resting vs. actual heart rate, and the composition of blood, using objects such as ping pong balls.

      The third activity is the importance of vaccinations. “We’ll play a game that demonstrates the jeopardy of declining vaccines vs. getting vaccinated. We’ll teach about Edward Jenner, who developed the smallpox vaccine, and the kids will get to make their own “vaccine.”

      Sierra said the main goal is to bring hands-on, fun, educational 4-H activities to a group of young people who have not had the opportunity to be exposed to them.

      “It is important that the teens represent the Hispanic audience that we are targeting,” Sierra said. “Ultimately, we’re looking for two dynamic teens who have an interest in providing a positive youth development experience to a new audience.”