4-H Is for Everyone

Richard Bogren  |  1/30/2017 3:10:47 PM

Rick Bogren

4-H is thriving in Louisiana. Under the direction of the LSU AgCenter 4-H Youth Development Department, the program serves nearly 200,000 Louisiana youth nine to 19 years old each year.

Head, Heart, Hands, and Health are the four H’s in 4-H, a national program operated through 110 land-grant public universities by the Cooperative Extension System and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One of the hallmarks of the program’s success in Louisiana is its relationship to schools. In 1988, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education decided the 4-H program would be considered co-curricular and would be allowed to conduct meetings and other activities during the school day, said Mark Tassin, AgCenter associate vice president.

“This lets us bring the program to the kids,” he said. “We can reach a nonmobile population and eliminate barriers to travel.”

The in-school programs allow access to school facilities not only to conduct club meetings during school hours but also to provide after-school and weekend activities.

“Another positive component is the use of school transportation systems to bring youth from all over the parish to one location for parish events and to trans­port youth to and from regional and state events, such as camps,” Tassin said. “The school systems are great partners and in many parishes provide salary support for the local 4-H agents.”

School club meetings are often led by AgCenter 4-H agents, but teachers, coach­es, counselors and school secretaries also join in to help keep the program available to a large number of students.

Although not all Louisiana public schools offer 4-H, the program is also available in private and charter schools as well as for home-schooled youth. This is important because Louisiana 4-H requires participants to be enrolled in school.

“If you’ve dropped out or if you’ve graduated before your 19th birthday, you can’t participate in 4-H,” Tassin said.

In addition to school-based clubs that serve about 139,000 students in school enrichment programs, Louisiana 4-H has a growing number of project clubs that include livestock, horses, food and nutrition, photography and many more subjects.

Most of these clubs meet outside of school and are led by adult volunteers.

“4-H is program of positive youth development,” Tassin said. The research-based program focuses on four essential elements: belonging, mastery, indepen­dence and generosity.

Youth development research through land-grant universities provides the foun­dation and best practices for positive pro­gramming, said department head Janet Fox. Evaluation data are collected to doc­ument the impact of the program, and the information is used to promote life skill development.

Belonging creates an environment where 4-H’ers can feel a sense of commu­nity, Tassin said.

Mastery gives them an opportunity to develop skills. “That’s why we’re proj­ect-based,” Tassin said. “A young person needs to master or accomplish a task.”

Since its establishment in 1902, 4-H has moved beyond traditional rural pro­gramming and added activities to allow participants the chance to find programs and pursuits that appeal to them.

“Louisiana provides exceptional opportunities in areas such as food, out­doors and wetlands,” Fox said. “Our fast­est growing area is shooting sports, but we still have strong programs in animal agriculture and horses.”

Contests and other competitions offer 4-H’ers the chance to participate and get to know their peers. “And we give them oppor­tunities to go places like national camps to broaden their experiences,” she said.

Independence creates opportunities for 4-H’ers to make decisions, assume responsibility and build leadership skills.

Club participation includes serving as a club officer or in leading club proj­ects such as food drives or community beautification, Tassin said. Most parishes have Teen Leader Clubs for older youth to develop programming to present to younger 4-H’ers.

“We grow leaders by offering opportu­nities to be club officers, camp counselors and activity guides,” Fox said, pointing to leadership boards and service-learning projects as additional avenues for youth engagement.

More than 400 youth serve as camp counselors at summer camp and about 700 participate in a number of state­wide leadership boards, including the Citizenship Board, Executive Board, Fashion Board, Food and Fitness Board, SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) Board as well as Shooting Sports Ambassadors and Performing Arts Troupe.

Service-learning projects build on the foundational element of generosity. “We want the youth to be ‘givers back’ to their community or school,” Tassin said.

Louisiana starts 4-H’ers early. A pro­gram called Cloverbuds offers activities for children from kindergarten through third-grade. “It’s like pre-4-H,” Fox said.

4-H Clubs meet monthly to learn about subject matter, work on 4-H proj­ects, perform community service, devel­op leadership skills and work together, Fox said. Guided by one or more adult volunteers, a club can include number of youth from a school, neighborhood or parish.

The relative age breakdown for Louisiana 4-H includes about 16 percent in Cloverbuds, 45 percent in grades four through six, 20 percent in grades seven and eight, and 18 percent in grades nine through 12.

Rick Bogren is a professor and science writer in LSU AgCenter Communications and associate editor of Louisiana Agriculture.

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Achievement awards winners visit LSU Tiger Stadium. Photo by Olivia McClure

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Fashion Revue, an annual event at 4-H University. Photo by Olivia McClure

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Kadan Guillory, past 4-H president, presiding at 4-H University in June 2016. Photo by Olivia McClure

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During National Science Day on Oct. 5, 2016, these 4-H’ers learned about drones.

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Since its establishment in 1902, 4-H has moved beyond traditional rural programming and added activities to allow participants the chance to find programs and pursuits that appeal to them.

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