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How Important Are At-Risk Children and Obesity Programs to Extension?

How Important Are At-Risk Children and Obesity Programs to Extension?
Evolving times have led to different kind of Extension in many areas.

The famous painting of the county agent visiting a young 4-H member's farm with the barn and a Guernsey calf in the background is a far cry from the image of modern Extension educators today. And the gap seems to widen even more in the draft strategic plan now under review for adoption for the next five years by Purdue University Extension.

Two of the 10 initiatives in the proposed strategic plan prepared as a statewide guide deal with at-risk children and obese children. The first cites that Indiana's graduation rate form high school at 81.5 % is 48th in the country. In some schools within Indiana is as low as 42.3 %. In others, it's 96.5%. There's also a disparity in how schools count students to prepare those numbers.

At any rate, Purdue Extension, which has already been involved with these types of programs, and rightfully so, proposes going deeper into work in this area. The plan calls for forming a Kindergarten Ready Action Team to deliver health and educational nutrition programs to more at-risk parents than before. Programs already working well for Extension include Have a Healthy Baby and Raising Healthy Eaters.

The proposal also suggest expanding reading programs, a big part of what some county Extension does in some counties, to focus on language development.

The goals are noble: for at-risk children to reach age-based normal for body weight and motor skills when they enter kindergarten, for at-risk children to understand and be interested in basic language skills and literacy, and for parents of at-risk children to become more involved in their children's learning.

The question becomes: is this what Extension is meant to do? Food and family science educators and the Purdue specialists who prepare them will argue yes. Others may argue why aren't schools shouldering more of this burden? Where will time for these additional programs come from? Who will free up the educators who serve on this new team, which is only one of other new teams suggested to be formed in the draft version of the strategic plan?

Another initiative directly states the goal is to reduce human obesity through community-based programs. This initiative calls for building a Community-based health team. The goal would be to help communities from coalitions and to put tools in their hands that can help them conduct programs and campaigns aimed at helping deliver health, nutrition and physical activity programs.

All of these are noble goals. Are they roles Extension should play? That's the question.

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