Karen Overstreet, Morgan, Johnny W.
Volunteers associated with the LSU AgCenter are using the American flag to help fourth graders make studying for the LEAP test more fun.
The Louisiana Association for Family and Community Education, a volunteer organization that partners with the LSU AgCenter, developed a skit that serves such a purpose – although its influence on LEAP wasn’t exactly planned.
One of the group’s officers explained that when the Shiloh Homemakers FCE of Tangipahoa Parish decided to do a school presentation as part of their club project, they had no idea the presentation also would help the students with the LEAP test that all fourth graders have to pass in order to be promoted to the fifth grade.
Shirley Rigdon, vice president for the group, said she got the idea for the project while attending an officers’ workshop.
"After I left that workshop, the events of Sept. 11 were still very much imprinted on my mind," Rigdon explained. "I had retired from the public school system after 18 years where the children in our school daily said the Pledge of Allegiance."
But Rigdon said it occurred to her that many of the children didn’t know much about the flag or its history. So she decided to use the pamphlets she received at the workshop as a basis for a skit. She said her idea was to perform the skit in front of all fourth graders in the parish.
"I took my idea to the club members, and they gave their full support, and the idea took its first step toward reality," Rigdon said.
Adopting programs to meet local needs is exactly what the LSU AgCenter encourages members of the FCE groups across the state to do, said LSU AgCenter specialist Dr. Karen Overstreet, who serves as advisor to the group.
"The LSU AgCenter provides leadership development opportunities for FCE members," Overstreet explained. "At the officers’ training workshop, state officers presented a three-year plan based on materials from extension specialists, their national association and other resources.
"The original flag program was from their national organization," she continued.
The skit is designed to give a history lesson about the flag and allow the students to win prizes for answering questions about the flag correctly.
"The club has done a good job of presenting the information in a format that is appealing to students," said Overstreet, who is a professor in the LSU AgCenter’s School of Human Ecology. "By making the program interactive, the volunteers are able to capture the students’ attention."
The skit begins with a narrator and three FCE volunteers serving as the characters Old Glory, Stars and Stripes, and Star Spangled Banner.
Each gives historical information about the flag. Then the students are asked questions about the information they just heard. And at the conclusion of the skit, volunteers are picked to participate in the flag folding ceremony.
Shiloh FCE President Pat Shontell explained the folding ceremony also is educational, because there is a meaning to each fold in the flag.
"When we go to the classes we always ask if there are Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts present to participate in the flag folding part of the skit, because they do it in their club meetings," Shontell said.
Rigdon said that when they were planning the skits they realized they unfortunately didn’t have enough money to present the program to all 1,500 public school fourth graders in the parish.
"We decided to contact local businesses to raise the needed funds to carry out the program," Shontell said, explaining the needed funds came in quickly and allowed them to start the program in January 2003.
So far, Shiloh FCE volunteers have presented the skit to more than 1,200 fourth graders in Tangipahoa and Livingston parishes.
Rigdon said the most memorable moment of the appearances came in Loranger after they had presented the skit.
"A little fourth-grade girl with her soft voice asked me, ‘Do you know how I knew that June 14 is Flag Day?’ When I shook my head she said, ‘June 14 is my mother and my sister’s birthday,’" Rigdon explained. "After I congratulated her, I told her that she had used a valuable learning tool – that of association. I’ll never forget that little girl."