Strengthening the Danbury Community with UConn Extension

From STEM programs to nutrition education, Danbury Public Schools and UConn Extension collaborate to help the community

A group of students and educators poses for a photo

Students and teachers from Danbury Public Schools pose with UConn Extension educators (Contributed photo)

A proverb states, “it takes a village to raise a child.” The Extended Learning Program (ELP) offered by the Danbury Public Schools seeks to provide that village or community.

The program enhances youth development, and helps parents fill gaps left by the education system and full work schedules. Marlene Ho-Yen joined the ELP program staff in Danbury over 15 years ago. She discovered that UConn Extension’s 4-H program was an integral part of the extended learning opportunities.

“I didn’t know about Extension until I started working in the afterschool program and saw how much UConn 4-H did for the youth. The connection of what the community does and what the school does shows how much we need 4-H,” she says.

4-H is the largest youth development program in the country. Its mission is to help young people acquire knowledge, develop leadership and life skills, and form attitudes that enable them to become self-directing, productive, and contributing members of their families and communities.

Danbury needed more STEM education, and 4-H was able to help. The program introduces students to science, technology, engineering, and math in fun and engaging ways. The positive impact encouraged Ho-Yen to further strengthen the relationship. She started pursuing additional 4-H programs, and 21st Century grants to hire 4-H staff for the schools.

She says the results were amazing, as the students flourished.

“UConn 4-H is for the community – they are truly there to serve students and the residents of Connecticut in all different ways. The most rewarding thing is the ‘wow’ moments when students and families learn something.”

Nutrition education was identified as another gap. UConn Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) educators were brought into the partnership with Ho-Yen and the Danbury schools. Both 4-H and EFNEP have the flexibility to provide for the school’s needs and adapt to the population.

Classes are offered on food safety, shopping on a budget, and meal preparation, among others, with guardians earning a certificate at the end of the series. Gardens are planted for harvest in the summer and fall, and they also bring families to the farmers’ market to help make the connection to their food and nutrition. Extension and the school system continue seeking creative ways and partnerships to better serve the community.

Ho-Yen explains that participants and their families show gratitude for the programs long after they have ended. Recently, she says parents that took nutrition education courses with the EFNEP program three years ago asked to participate in other Extension programs, because they found it valuable.

“Marlene Ho-Yen and the Danbury Public Schools are exceptional partners, and help Extension serve community members in Fairfield County,” says Bonnie Burr, assistant director, and department head for UConn Extension. “The collaborative programming we offer with them is integral to the success of the program, and the model Extension uses nationwide.”

There are eight schools in Danbury’s ELP program under Ho-Yen’s management, and each has distinct needs. UConn 4-H and EFNEP programs are offered on a rotational basis through each of the schools, with UConn Extension educators and volunteers leading them in cooperation with ELP.

Ho-Yen says she’s proud of what Danbury Public Schools and UConn Extension have built together, and is excited for what is still to come.

“I love what UConn 4-H does in Danbury; 4-H is doing community projects. and they are a continuation from every time we partnered in the past until today.”


UConn Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond by providing answers people can trust through programs and initiatives that include 4-H and EFNEP. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resource’s strategic initiatives. Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.