Children involved in 4-H perform better in those subjects and are more likely to pursue science careers, according to the study, released Wednesday in conjunction with 4-H National Youth Science Day.
'When parents ask, 'What can I do to get my kid a leg up?,' getting them involved in 4-H turns out to be a very effective strategy,' said Richard Lerner, director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts and lead researcher for the multiyear study.
The latest phase of study looked at more than 1,300 tenth-graders who participated in 4-H programs and nearly 800 who didn't. The research was commissioned by the National 4-H Council and funded by corporations that sponsor the organization. 4-H said an advisory board helps ensure the study is conducted independently.
The report also found that children involved for a longer time experienced more benefits, and that girls benefited more from 4-H participation than boys, though the reason was unclear.
'We're not saying 4-H is the formula to get your kids into Tufts University,' Lerner said, adding that parents, mentors and other youth development programs also play critical roles. 'What we're saying is greater doses of 4-H give your kid an advantage.'
Angelina Mangiardi, 15, a high school sophomore from Pittsfield, Mass., has taken part in 4-H programs for six years and attended a 4-H Science Engineering and Technology camp this summer at the University of Massachusetts, where she studied rocketry.
'4-H has helped me be involved in different things, so I can figure out what I want,' she said. 'I do like the sciences.'
Tyler Crager, 13, an eighth-grader from Whitman, Mass., also attended the camp. He learned astrophotography, visited a planetarium and 'investigated bugs and stuff' in an entomology lab. Tyler said he is considering science as a career and is particularly interested in forensics.
Plenty of evidence shows that students learn a lot outside the classroom, including at after-school programs like 4-H, said Dr. Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.
The 4-H focus on science and technology lines up with the century-old organization's original mission of bringing scientific developments in farming to rural areas, said Don Floyd, national 4-H president.
'This challenge we have as a country of not producing enough scientists is a big deal,' Floyd said.
He pointed out that the U.S. lags behind China and Japan and Germany, 'where about 60 percent of their graduates are science majors, and we're doing about 30 percent,' he said.
The 6 million 4-H members, about half of whom live in urban areas, study alternative energy, robotics, engineering and computer technology.
Previously published findings of the Tufts study have shown that 4-H participants are nearly two times more likely to get better grades in school and nearly two times more likely to plan to go to college.
They are also 41 percent less likely to engage in risky behaviors.