4-H summer program benefits rural students

Tobie Blanchard  |  7/31/2017 3:36:05 PM

(07/31/17) ANGIE, La. — A group of students in Washington Parish are waking up each weekday morning eager to go to summer school. The program at Wesley Ray Elementary School, however, isn’t a traditional remedial summer school.

Youngsters are participating in a summer educational program through a partnership with LSU AgCenter 4-H Youth Development program, the National 4-H Council and BELL, an organization dedicated to improving academic achievement in children living in under-resourced communities.

Representatives of BELL, along with 4-H and community leaders, visited the school on July 18 to see the program in action.

“It’s really infused a sense of enthusiasm among the youth to learn. BELL can teach the concepts in the classroom, and 4-H can bring it to life,” said Janet Fox, LSU AgCenter 4-H department head.

BELL has educational programs in many urban areas and was interested in reaching rural youth. Louisiana 4-H recognized Wesley Ray as a school that could benefit from this pilot program, Fox said.

“It has high poverty. It has low test scores. We felt like we could make a difference in the lives of the young students who go here,” Fox said.

Angela Kennedy, Wesley Ray assistant principal and the program’s site manager, said she is seeing a difference in the students.

“They love coming. They are excited to learn. This is something that will impact them for the rest of their lives,” Kennedy said.

The program started at the end of June and ran for four weeks. Students participate in math and English and language arts lessons. They have enrichment programs such as art and yoga. They also go on field trips.

Lauren Gilbert, BELL CEO, said BELL’s programs aim to eliminate summer learning loss.

“We feel that the biggest inequality in education is actually summer. It’s the haves and the have-nots,” Gilbert said. “Either you have the economic resources to obtain the summer program that can curb summer learning loss or you cannot.”

Wesley Ray principal Kewanda August said she was excited to have 4-H and the BELL pilot rural program and to give her students this opportunity.

“It helps with our achievement gap and what they call the summer slide. This is going to change that,” August said.

For parents, such as Ke’Nae Pigott, the program offers a familiar and safe place to send children, where the youngsters can continue to learn, grow and receive nutritious meals and snacks.

“It’s a different experience for them to come here to school and look forward to doing things you would never think your child would be interested in,” Pigott said.

Pigott’s daughter, third-grader Teaynna Mark, realizes the effect the program is having on her. “I’m learning math that I didn’t know before, and I’m reading harder books,” Teaynna said.

Fourth-grader Kylan Roberts said the program is so much better than school. “We’re not just doing school work, we’re doing activities — fun activities,” Kylan said.

AgCenter 4-H agent Beth Blackwell Putnam said 4-H has provided many of the hands-on activities, which included planting clovers, creating Louisiana art and visiting with an alligator.

“It was creepy, scary, but kind of cool,” third-grader Vivian Hogard said of the alligator.

Vivian’s mother, Angela Schley, has three children in the program. She said she is already looking ahead to next year.

“It’s a great program. Hopefully it will be back next summer,” Schley said.

Both Fox and Gilbert said they see the collaboration between 4-H and BELL growing into other communities in the state and in 4-H programs in other states.

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LSU AgCenter Youth Wetlands coordinator Heather Niemic shows Vivian Hogard special features on the eyes of an alligator. Niemic was providing a lesson for the students in the free, four-week educational and enrichment program provided by 4-H and BELL. Photo by Tobie Blanchard/LSU AgCenter

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BELL CEO Lauren Gilbert discusses BELL's desire to reach students in rural areas during a visit to the Wesley Ray Elementary School summer program. Photo by Tobie Blanchard/LSUAgCenter

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Teaynna Mark measures marshmallows during a math exercise at the Wesley Ray Elementary School summer program. The free program is funded through BELL and 4-H. Photo by Tobie Blanchard/LSUAgCenter

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