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Community Programs to Promote Youth Development
they place on autonomy. Many American Indian tribes, such as the Navajo, place high value on letting children make their own decisions (LaFromboise and Graff Low, 1998), whereas other ethnic minority groups in this country do not (Fisher et al., 1998). People also differ in the degree to which they conceptualize efficacy as individualized action rather than a collective process. Programs need to take these characteristics into account.
The challenges must also fit with the adolescents’ level of competence. Research in classrooms shows that students are more motivated to learn when material is appropriate for their current levels of competence (Maehr and Midgley, 1996). Challenges that are too high or two low for a given person will undermine sustained engagement (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Vygotsky, too, theorized that growth is most likely when people are challenged at a level somewhat above but not too far beyond their skills. In community programs, it appears that the availability of a variety of novel and interesting activities increases youth’s active participation (Gambone and Arbreton, 1997; McLaughlin, 2000). Culture is important here, too, because it determines what will make for a personally meaningful challenge.
Like structure, support for efficacy and mattering are necessary features for development in any setting. If adolescents do not experience personal engagement and a sense of mattering, they are not likely to grow personally. These features, then, are prerequisite to all types of development described in Chapter 2, but they have a particular relevance to psychological, emotional, and social development. Theory suggests that it is through acting, taking on challenges, and making meaningful contributions that a person’s sense of self and identity develops.
Opportunities for Skill Building
Good settings provide opportunities to acquire knowledge and learn both new skills and new habits of mind. We include here cognitive, physical, psychological, social, and cultural skills. Of course, some community programs specialize in promoting the development of specific skills, such as athletic or artistic abilities. But good programs encourage learning in other areas as well. They can encourage the development of good habits and a wide range of competences and life skills, from media literacy to acquiring job skills through the use of an “embedded curriculum” and a curriculum that systematically cycles through planning, practice, and performance (McLaughlin, 2000). The specific skills promoted