(11/17/23) ALEXANDRIA, La. — More than 1,100 students across a 10-parish region in central Louisiana got to hold a live alligator, see cotton ginned and learn the importance of proper handwashing during a trip through AgMagic, the LSU AgCenter agricultural-themed exhibit.
“We’re trying to extend the education that is happening in our area school systems but with our focus being primarily in agriculture,” said Esther Boe, 4-H coordinator for the AgCenter Central Region. “It helps teach our children where their food and fiber comes from.”
The AgCenter features AgMagic at four locations throughout the year. The Central Region event ran for two days, Nov. 15 and16, and has been held annually in the area since 2018.
One purpose of the event is to increase agriculture awareness. This undertaking is accomplished through a variety of activities, many of which involve completing a hands-on task.
Forestry is Louisiana’s largest agricultural enterprise, and students were able to do leaf rubbings of trees found in the state.
A highlight of the trip involved a lesson on the biology of the American alligator. The students were taught some of the traits of alligators including their hides, how they reproduce and what products are made from alligators.
For the students, this lesson gave them an opportunity to hold a small alligator. Many of the students were both excited and anxious to hold it, and many of them commented on how soft the scales were.
For Landon Wyble, a student at Chataignier Elementary School, it was his second time holding an alligator.
“My favorite part was holding the alligator,” he said. “Some of the things we talked about I already knew because I had held an alligator before, but it was still fun.”
Jackie Prudhomme is a fourth grade teacher at Chataignier and said the event gave her students an opportunity to experience some of what is taught in the classroom through hands-on activities.
“We do have some of this in our curriculum,” Prudhomme said, “and we like to do as many of these as we can during the school year. Some of the students don’t get to experience what we are seeing today.”
She said a fundraising event helped pay for the trip so that no students had to come out of pocket, and all the students had the opportunity to participate.
A new exhibit for this year was the Germ Cave. Students were shown how germs appear on their hands and body upon entering the cave. Black lighting inside the cave illuminated the germs. The students then exited the cave and washed their hands with sanitizer, soap and water. They then reentered the cave to see how effective handwashing is in preventing the spread of germs.
“It really stresses the importance of handwashing, especially with all of the different germs and viruses,” said nutrition and community health agent Jennifer Duhon.
Taralyn Richard, also a student at Chatignier, said her favorite part was the Germ Cave.
“I liked to see how we could wash our hands to get rid of the germs,” Richard said. “It also teaches us to practice safety.”
Nutrition and a healthy diet was also a concept Duhon said was featured. This exposure may spark an interest in students to join 4-H and become involved with cooking opportunities the youth organization offers.
“We often see some of these students come back and join the food and nutrition board, or oftentimes within our parishes, they tend to want to join our culinary clubs and learn more about nutrition,” Duhon said.
Brees Vasquez served as a volunteer for the event. She was involved in helping with the water cycle station, which was sponsored by the Soil and Water Conservation District. For her, volunteering fulfilled two purposes.
“I love 4-H and I love helping people,” Vasquez said. “This was an opportunity to do both.”
The next AgMagic events will occur concurrently in Docville in St. Bernard Parish and on the LSU-Baton Rouge campus during the week of March 18.
Students draw a leaf rubbing at the LSU AgCenter AgMagic Cenla held at the State Evacuation Shelter on Nov. 15. More than 1,100 students from across central Louisiana attended the two-day event. The students learned the important contributions agriculture makes to Louisiana. Photo by Craig Gautreaux/LSUAgCenter
Students stand in line for the opportunity to touch or hold a baby alligator during the LSU AgCenter AgMagic Cenla event. Nearly 1,200 students from 10 parishes attended the two-day event held Nov. 15 and 16. Photo by Craig Gautreaux/LSU AgCenter
Two students from Chataignier Elementary School use a magnifying lens to examine insects at the LSU AgMagic Cenla event held at the State Evacuation Shelter Nov. 15 and 16. The students toured numerous stations highlighting agriculture, nutrition and health. Photo by Craig Gautreaux/LSU AgCenter