Youth Advocates for Health, or YA4-H!, is a positive youth development program in WSU Extension’s Youth and Family Unit. YA4-H! develops teens as leaders and advocates for health within their communities. This program was led by Dr. Elizabeth Weybright and is now led by Dr. Ashley Hernandez-Hall in collaboration with county Extension faculty across the state. Built on a foundation of positive youth development and the 4-H Essential Elements of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity, YA4-H! provides opportunities to teens to develop skills to successfully navigate the transition to adulthood. YA4-H! is flexible in that it can be used to promote a variety of health behaviors. This means that in addition to positive youth development outcomes, teens and the youth they teach are exposed to healthy lifestyle content.
Since 2013, YA4-H! has received $575,000 in extramural funding from National 4-H Council and partners including ConAgra Foods, United Health Care, and Walmart Foundation. These funds have been used to engage 13,000 youth, 300 teens, and countless family and community members.
WSU Extension YA4-H! is implemented in three components of:
1. youth-adult partnerships,
2. teens as teachers, and
3. youth participatory action research.
Developmental relationships between youth and adults are consistently identified as critical for effective youth programming. Youth-adult partnerships consist of two main features including youth voice in decision making and supportive adult relationships. Prior research indicates youth who participate in youth-adult partnerships experience greater empowerment, psychological agency, and community connectedness while developing problem solving and decision-making skills.
Teens as Teachers
Teens as teachers uses a cross-age peer teaching model which is a relationship between two peers of the same generation where one peer is slightly older. Teen teachers not only promote positive outcomes among those they teach but also “learn by doing,” which is a 4-H tradition. Research finds teens demonstrate greater internalization of content delivered (e.g., nutrition education) but also develop life skills such as communication, leadership, and teaching skills.
Teen as teachers (TAT) is being implemented as part of our Healthy Habits programming funded by National 4-H Council.
Youth Participatory Action Research
Participatory action research empowers youth with the skills to identify and research health concerns in their communities and take action to address them. This process is associated with greater civic engagement and youth empowerment.
Weybright, E., White, A., Greer, M., Fees ,J., & Watters, C. (2023). Youth Engagement Resource Guide. Washington State University Extension. https://doi.org/10.7273/000005214
The purpose of this resource guide is to provide background information and related research to support decision making for adults working with youth.
Weybright, E. H., Martinez, A. D., Varrella, G., Deen, M., & Wright, K. (2018). Teens as teachers: Positive outcomes and recommendations for promoting healthy nutrition in adolescents [Special Issue]. Journal of Youth Development, 13(3), 37-54. doi:10.5195/jyd.2018.595 Article link
Summary of findings: Increased nutrition knowledge and improved healthy eating behaviors such as greater ability to read food labels and reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. We concluded youth demonstrated greater internalization of nutrition content as a result of learning and teaching the curriculum to others.
Weybright, E. H., Trauntvein, N., & Deen, M. (2017). “It was like we were all equal”: Maximizing youth development using youth-adult partnerships [Special Issue]. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 35(1), 5-19. doi:10.18666/JPRA-2017-V35-I1-7246 Article link
Summary of findings: We translated the YA4-H! approach to other youth-serving organizations by providing a framework for disseminating youth-adult partnerships into communities.
Weybright, E. H., Hrncirik, L., White, A., Cummins, M., Deen, M., & Calodich, S. (2016). “I felt really respected and I know she felt respected too”: Using youth-adult partnerships to promote positive youth development in 4-H youth. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, 4(3), 93-110. Article link
Summary of findings: Greater skills related to teaching, communication, and leadership useful in school and work settings. This included skills related to classroom management, public speaking, and teamwork. We concluded youth experienced a sense of psychological engagement with the program and, in turn, developed personal and life skills.
Presentations and Trainings
“I Never Realized How Hard Recovery Is.” Evaluation of a Youth Participatory Action Research Project for Opioid Misuse Prevention: Society for Research on Adolescence
Youth engagement training for Washington State Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery Resource link
Youth Participatory Action Research for Substance Use Prevention: Associations with Youth Empowerment; Society for Research on Adolescence Poster link
Implications of the WA State 4-H teen assessment; National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Poster link
Youth Participatory Action Research training for Washington State SNAP-Ed Training link
Maximizing Positive Youth Development through Nutrition Interventions; WSU Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Poster link
Youth Advocates for Health (YA4-H!) Club: Building Community & Reducing Mental Health Stigma through Youth Participatory Action Research; WSU Globalization Diversity and Education Conference Poster link
Maximizing Retention of Nutritional Knowledge and Healthy Behaviors through the Teen Teaching Model; Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science Poster link
Inspiring Healthy Change among Adolescents – The Teens as Teaching Model for Nutrition Education; National Association of Extension 4-H Agents
Qualitative Evaluation of the 4-H Food Smart Families presented by WSU YA4-H! Program; National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Presentation link
Youth-Adult Partnerships to Promote Healthy Eating: Evaluation of ConAgra Food Smart Families presented by WSU YA4-H!; National Health Outreach Conference Presentation Link