Bruce Schultz, Martin, Karen M. | 11/12/2013 3:13:18 AM
News Release Distributed 11/11/13
SHREVEPORT, La. – Several thousand students and their teachers visited the LSU AgCenter’s AgMagic exhibit at the 2013 Louisiana State Fair.
Roughly 2,500 students were registered for the event from schools across northwest Louisiana, but many more showed up for unscheduled visits, according to Gwen Fontenot, LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in Natchitoches Parish.
AgMagic was open throughout the fair, which ran from Oct. 24 to Nov. 10, but during four days of AgMagic, activities and presentations were provided for students.
In previous years of the event, the guided presentations were held on three days, but an additional day was added because of the growing number of students, said Karen Martin, 4-H coordinator for the Northwest Region. Also this year, a fifth day was added to the event to make up for a day lost after flooding made it impossible for classes from several schools to attend, Fontenot said.
Martin said the displays give students a nine-minute presentation, and presenters do more than just talk. “We try to make sure everything is hands-on.”
For example, at the nutrition display, students assemble a plate of food from cut-out portions, and they sing and dance about exercising and eating properly. At the fishing exhibit, students try their hand at catching plastic fish with a rod and reel. At the row crop station, students got to see cotton being ginned and sat in the cab of a combine for corn. At a mini-farm, students could pet goats, sheep, a pig, rabbits and horses.
Martin said new displays and activities are included each year. For example, this year an exhibit allowed children to walk through a tree to see the different layers of wood growth. “We have some of the same groups visiting every year, so we want to do something different.”
LSU AgCenter personnel from across the region staff the four presentation days. In addition, Master Gardeners from north Louisiana helped with the horticulture exhibit.
Kenneth Warren of the Piney Hills Louisiana Master Gardeners, based in Minden, held the children’s attention when he explained the importance of butterflies and gave details on their life cycles.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “This is a good communication tool for the kids, and it’s passing gardening on to the next generation.”
Warren, retired from UPS and now a car salesman, said he enjoys helping students – and grownups – learn about gardening. “I have seen grownups who did not know potatoes grew in the ground.”
Also among the volunteers are 4-H Junior Leaders, including Aubrey Simmons, a senior at Ruston Senior High School. It was her fifth year to help with AgMagic. This year, she guided students to each display.
“It’s a really good opportunity to do leadership skills in activities with the little elementary school kids,” Simmons said.
Merry Ward, a freshman at Minden High School, said it’s her second year of volunteering at the event. “I love it. I feel like I’m at home. These people are like my family.”
Ward said she uses the occasion to tell younger students about what they will experience if they join 4-H.
Teachers said the event provides a good, first-hand look at Louisiana agriculture across the state.
“By coming here, we are able to get first-hand knowledge from people who know agriculture,” said teacher Vernelda Morning, who brought her third-grade Oil City Elementary School class. “Even though we are in a rural area, they still don’t get that first-hand experience.”
Morning and several other teachers said they refer throughout the year to what was seen at the exhibit.
Kelli Rehak, third-grade teacher at W.T. Lewis Elementary School in Bossier City, said the AgMagic presentations dovetail with classroom instruction. “We cover a lot of our curriculum in just this one visit. They bring it to life because they have the things we don’t have in our classroom, and it’s all Louisiana-related.”
She said the material provided at AgMagic gives her several activities that can be used during the year. “I love it. This is my sixth year.”
Teacher Sharonda Taylor, of Brown Upper Elementary School in Springhill, said AgMagic fulfills a need. “It shows the kids about agriculture that they don’t get at home. We get packets with everything teachers need for 30 students.”
Heather Sinagra, also a teacher at W.T. Lewis, said her third-grade class curriculum in social studies is focusing on Louisiana. “This has taken the text back to real life.”