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Breaking the Mold

New Mexico 4-H program, public school partnership helps students flourish

In 2016, Stephani Treadwell was looking for new ways to help her elementary school students succeed. During her research, the principal at Collet Park Elementary School in Albuquerque found a program that included experiential learning—the 4-H youth development program—and contacted Brittany Sonntag, NMSU Cooperative Extension Service Bernalillo County 4-H agent.

Sonntag didn’t hesitate to help transform the traditional 4-H club model and curriculum for the school day. Together, they started the 4-H Fridays program, which was offered during school hours to make it available for all the students.

“The creativity of my students soared,” Treadwell says. “The social skills of my students have soared.”

“We do this to help a lot of our kids overcome barriers to participation,” Sonntag says. “As the only urban 4-H agent in our state, I have lot of flexibility to push the boundaries of what 4-H is.”

Originally, nonacademic goals of 4-H Fridays were to improve student attendance and student behavior. In the first year, chronic absences decreased from 32% to 7%, and behavioral issues such as suspensions went from an everyday occurrence to once a month.

NMSU Extension Director Jon Boren praises the collaboration as a nationwide model for 4-H, which is the largest youth development program in the country. In New Mexico, 4-H serves approximately 40,000 youth annually.

“This is a program that we’re so excited about, and

we’re trying to proliferate it across the state,” Boren says. “A number of other states across the country are really interested in what Brittany and her team have developed in Albuquerque.”

Following the virtual learning period caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Treadwell noticed her students returned with unique needs. In response, 4-H was added as a special area subject, like art, music or physical education, and now Collet Park students have two hours of 4-H per week.

“We decided we needed to up the ante after the pandemic,” she says. “It’s been a phenomenal experience for our school.

“All of the skills a child needs—persistence, reliance, kindness, health issues, eating right,” Treadwell says, “all of those things are covered in 4-H.

“We as human beings need to apply things to something that means something to us in order for us to retain it,” Treadwell says. “Memorizing doesn’t go very far. 4-H allowed us to do that.”

Treadwell credits the collaboration with helping to improve the academic achievement of her students. A Title I school, Collet Park has finished in the top 30% in mathematics in the state.

Bernalillo County Extension 4-H Agent Phillip Alden has witnessed the many benefits of the 4-H school programs.

“It has allowed our youth in traditional programs to grow in leadership, and youth in non-traditional programs to see that there are different opportunities,” Alden says. “The growth has been exponential.”

Traditional 4-H club member and eighth-grader ReaAnna Gallegos is a prime example. She wanted to start a program at her school, so she approached the Bernalillo County Extension staff and helped launch an afterschool program at Ernie Pyle Middle School in Albuquerque.

Molly O’Nan Hayes ’89, who volunteers and helps run the program at Ernie Pyle, believes 4-H is helping middle schoolers explore new interests.

“They’re just zealous learners,” Hayes says. “It’s super exciting to bring 4-H into an afterschool program, and it’s giving them experiential learning and opening doors for them.”


Phillip Alden (from left), Bernalillo County Extension 4-H Agent; Brittany Sonntag, Bernalillo County Extension 4-H Agent; ReaAnna Gallegos, 4-H member; Molly O’Nan Hayes, 4-H volunteer; and Stephani Treadwell, principal at Collet Park Elementary School, participated in a 4-H Fridays program panel discussion at the NMSU Outreach Conference in Las Cruces in February 2023.