Southern University Offers Diverse Opportunities Through 4-H and Youth Development Programs

Linda Foster Benedict

Since its founding in 1880, Southern University has been deeply immersed in providing develop­ment opportunities for Louisiana youth and has a long tradition of supporting the 4-H program since its establishment in the state in 1908. Since 1997, the 4-H and youth development program has been administered through the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Baton Rouge. Following is a brief look at six of the pro­grams targeting youth:

School Gardening

“Plant It, Grow It, Try It, Like It” is the motto and mission of the school garden­ing project, which is currently at three schools in East Baton Rouge Parish — the Southern University Magnet Lab School, Scotlandville Magnet High School and Scotlandville Pre-Engineering Magnet Academy. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized this project as one of the most outstanding examples in the country of an effort to help eradicate food deserts, which are neighborhoods with lim­ited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Students learn about growing fruits, vegetables and herbs through a compre­hensive curriculum in which they also learn the science and math involved in growing food and about nutrition and healthy eating. The young people take home their newly acquired knowledge to their families, which helps the entire com­munity become healthier.

Since its establishment in 2012, the project has provided 214 class ses­sions and has reached 3,285 youth. It was funded with a $250,000 four-year grant provided by the 1890 Capacity Building Grant Program from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Money is being sought to continue the program, according to Tiffany Franklin, project coordinator with Cooperative Extension.

4-H LIFE Prison Program

The 4-H LIFE Prison Program is an attempt to hold together families sepa­rated by the incarceration of the mother or father and to make these families stronger through parent education. LIFE stands for “Living Interactive Family Education,” according to Franklin, who directs this program, which is sponsored and funded by the National 4-H Council through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The program operates in two pris­ons — for mothers only at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and for mothers and fathers at the St. Landry Parish Jail. The parents go through parent education classes and then once a month get togeth­er with their children for family time and activities for the whole group.

The program reaches about 100 youth per year, 50 per prison. The program is in its sixth year and has secured funding for another year. Because of the success of the program, Franklin would like to expand it to other prisons across the state. And she is looking for more funding.


In the CHEF (Cooking Healthy Enjoyable Food) Camps, children learn about healthy eating, food preparation, food safety and the importance of physi­cal activity — all in one five-day summer camp. The children, ages 4-14, leave the camp knowing how to prepare their own after-school snacks, how to grow some of their own food, and how to choose healthi­er foods for themselves and their families.

The program has been conducted joint­ly by the Southern University Ag Center and the LSU AgCenter since 2012 and was offered in 13 different locations in 2016, including Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

De’Shoin A. York, associate nutri­tion specialist and coordinator of the Southern program, and Sharman Charles, LSU AgCenter extension nutrition­ist and manager of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in Louisiana, developed the curriculum.

The overall goal of the camps is to help reduce Louisiana’s high obesity rate.

“We targeted the young people by let­ting them have fun in the kitchen while learning skills to help them and their fam­ilies. Young people have a way of helping the entire family change eating habits,” Friendship said.

National Youth Science Day

National Youth Science Day is an annual event sponsored by National 4-H to spark interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM, among young people. Every year kits with instructions for a science exper­iment are sent to 4-H offices across the country. Then, on the first Wednesday in October, thousands of young people across the country conduct the same experiment.

At the Southern University Ag Center, this event is a high priority. And this year’s experiment, called drone discovery, was conducted on Oct. 5 and attracted nearly 300 youth from across the state to the campus.

“We try to make the experiment comparable to real life situations so kids can relate,” said Franklin, who has been the coordinator of the event for the past five years.

This year’s historic flooding in Louisiana provided an example of the use of drones that was particularly relevant. As part of their activities, the students viewed videos of the flood damage over cities and agricultural fields captured with drones. They also learned about fixed and rotary wing designs, explored the concept of remote sensing and were exposed to the world of coding for real-world drone applications.

National Ag Day

Each year, one day is set aside nation­wide to call attention to the critical role agriculture plays in society, and it’s called National Ag Day. The Southern University Ag Center has turned this event — usually in mid-March — into an opportunity for youth development and student recruitment as well as ag aware­ness. Over the past three years, the day’s activities have gone from poster presen­tations in the hallways at the Ag Center building to a traveling exhibit in which 1,000 students in nine parishes in 20 dif­ferent schools participated.

It all started when Renita Marshall, associate professor in animal science and extension veterinarian, obtained a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help entice Southern University stu­dents into majoring in the College of Agriculture, Family and Consumer Sciences. The program is called Jags in Ag, a play on SU’s jaguar mascot. The National Ag Day event is part of the Jags in Ag project.

The theme for the 2016 National Ag Day was sustainability and stewardship of a healthy planet. Working with faculty mentors, SU students prepared 30-minute lessons about composting and recycling. In teams of two to three, they spent March 15 in 10 schools in East Baton Rouge Parish and one school each in eight other parishes and gave hands-on presentations.

“We want young people to under­stand that there are many diverse career opportunities in agriculture and that the agriculture profession encompasses much more than farming,” Marshall said.

Citizenship Washington Focus

Each year for the past three years, six students in the Southern University Ag Center 4-H and youth development program have been selected from East Baton Rouge and St. Landry parishes for the Citizenship Washington Focus pro­gram, which is funded through Farm Credit. These students get the opportu­nity to spend six days in Washington, D.C., and participate in civic workshops, committees and field trips and visit with Congressional staff for a behind-the-scenes look at how government works.

Linda Foster Benedict is the associate director of LSU AgCenter Communications and editor of Louisiana Agriculture

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Three girls prepare pizza at a CHEF Camp in East Baton Rouge Parish. They are Ashlyn Johnson, Copper Mill Elementary School; Calie Minton, South Walker Elementary School; and Alyvia Pierson, Copper Mill. Photo by Bridget Udoh

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Garrett Edgerson, of Da Edge Productions, left, demonstrates using a drone during the National Science Day activities on Oct. 5, 2016. Nearly 300 students participated. Photo by LaKeeshia Giddens

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Marquetta Anderson, parish chair and extension nutrition agent in East Baton Rouge Parish, works with you at a CHEF Camp. Photo by Bridget Udoh

2/2/2017 7:45:07 PM
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