Bruce Schultz | 1/30/2017 3:25:51 PM
Louisiana 4-H and school systems statewide share a rare connection. In most states, 4-H programs are not part of school curricula.
The co-curricular arrangement with the school systems allows Louisiana 4-H to reach a broad range of youth, said Janet Fox, LSU AgCenter 4-H Youth Development Department head. She said 4-H adds to school curricula, enhancing what is taught in the classroom.
“Schools gardens are a perfect example of that,” Fox said.
The school gardening program demonstrates the potential 4-H has to complement what is being taught, Fox said, by allowing teachers the chance to include science, math and writing into a hands-on experience.
Fox said 4-H agents work with principals and schools to identify priority areas. Parish 4-H advisory committees also provide input about program needs.
With more people living in urban settings, 4-H can be used to educate people where their food comes from and how it’s grown with agriculture awareness events held throughout the state to explain the origins of food.
Educators guide 4-H agents on the subject matter to be taught, said region 4-H coordinator Tina Goebel. “The focus is determined by an advisory committee. They prioritize what the issues are,” she said.
Subject matter has included bullying, health and science-related topics. Every parish covers wetlands education, Goebel said.
The 4-H program has adapted as more standardized testing has become common. “They support the state academic standards that are required,” she said.
Esther Boe, 4-H agent in Avoyelles Parish, said 4-H was used to help at Bunkie Elementary School after it was designated a failing school and taken over by the state Department of Education. The 4-H program was used to help third-and fourth-graders with math skills, using games and hands-on activities.
After three years, test scores improved sufficiently to remove the school from its failing status.
The opportunity gave 4-H Club members the chance to work with younger kids. “Youth from two 4-H Clubs assisted, and they were true leaders,” Boe said.
Working in the school regularly gave 4-H a presence and the chance to recruit several new 4-H Club members. “Some of those teachers have become our 4-H leaders,” Boe said.
Also in Avoyelles Parish, science programming is used for roughly 400 third-graders in the 4-H Cloverbuds program aimed at children too young to be regular 4-H’ers, Boe said.
The lessons coincide with classroom lessons. Topics have included rocks and minerals and forensic fingerprinting, in addition to a wetlands series, she said.
In Vermilion Parish, the 4-H program has been enlisted in a partnership with the Vermilion Parish School Board to help with an alternative school program designed for students who have difficulty learning in a traditional setting.
The program, Virtual Vermilion, allows students to remain at home and complete their coursework online. “It’s like a home-school program coordinated by the school board,” said Shannan Waits, 4-H agent in Vermilion Parish.
The involvement of 4-H in Virtual Vermilion resulted from a conversation with school system Superintendent, Jerome Puyau, Waits said.
The 4-H programming involves a hands-on science component, taught by Alex LeBlanc, a school system employee, tied to the curriculum. “We provide once-a-week lab sessions,” Waits said.
In addition to learning science, students also interact with their peers. They become 4-H Club members and have monthly meetings. “These students would have never joined 4-H at their schools,” Waits said.
Roughly 15 students are in the program from grades six through 12. “It fluctuates because they have the flexibility to go in and out of the program,” she said.
4-H is involved in several other collaborative projects with the board, including a healthy living session for parish educators, Waits said. A school gardening program started in the parish two years ago with Dan Devenport, the LSU AgCenter horticulture agent in Vermilion Parish.
The Evangeline Parish public school system is in the early stages of implementing yoga in physical education classes in the spring of 2017. Kimberly Deville, 4-H agent in Evangeline Parish, said she brought the lesson plans for yoga to school principals and physical education teachers.
“They loved it,” Deville said. “The state 4-H office provided everything, so they have everything they need to do it.”
Joanna Strong, 4-H agent in Richland Parish, holds weekly yoga sessions for the Delhi High School football team.
The football coach heard she was teaching yoga, and he asked her if she would lead his team through a regimen of poses and relaxation exercises. “It helps the kids focus and calm down,” Strong said.
The coach has credited the yoga program for preventing major injuries on the team this year. “He feels like the focus and stretching is a major reason,” she said.
Strong also helps science teachers by bringing a hands-on approach to the seventh-grade science class at Mangham Junior High School. For example, when the class was learning about genetics and heredity, her lesson demonstrated probability with a coin toss to determine what traits would be inherited for rabbits. The students made a model bunny to demonstrate how the offspring would look.
“What I teach depends on what they are studying at that point,” Strong said.
Her lessons reinforce what the regular teachers are trying to get students to understand. “The more times kids see something or hear it, the more likely they are to remember it,” she said.
Bruce Schultz is an assistant communications specialist with LSU AgCenter Communications.
LSU AgCenter vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot shows elementary students at St. Aloysius Catholic School in Baton Rouge how to check for insects and to determine when water is needed in their school garden. Photo by Johnny Morgan
Inner-city students in New Orleans are learning the value of eating fresh vegetables. These Warren Easton High School students are learning math and science along with the importance of good nutrition. Photo by Johnny Morgan, LSU AgCenter
Teachers from throughout south Louisiana learn how to maintain a school garden as part of a program grant obtained by LSU AgCenter vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot, standing at right. The grant covers the cost of seed, materials and training at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden. Photo by Johnny Morgan