AgCenter program teaches youth life lessons

Karol Osborne  |  2/25/2019 3:43:37 PM

(02/25/19) SHREVEPORT, La. — From making healthy food choices to selecting future career paths, decision-making presents many challenges, especially for youth growing up in traditionally underserved communities.

Students at Green Oaks Performing Arts Academy in Shreveport are getting some real-world experiences to help prepare for their future health and well-being through LSU AgCenter-sponsored educational programs.

“Our goal at Green Oaks has been to provide support programming and resources for school enrichment in areas of nutrition and health, science and technology and career exploration to enhance student learning experiences,” said AgCenter 4-H agent Katherine Pace.

“It gets them out of their ‘normal’ of what they see and do, and leads to intrinsic motivation,” said Green Oaks principal Steven Grant.

The school-based outreach focuses on strengthening leadership and communication skills and is part of a $600,000 Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) grant the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded to the AgCenter in 2014.

The CYFAR programs initially focused on community gardens and nutrition education for youth and families and later added the school-based enrichment program.

“The project has opened doors for the AgCenter to reach new audiences through collaborations and partnerships,” Pace said.

The school-based project initially targeted middle-school students, offering an array of programs on money management, healthy food choices and gardening.

Using the AgCenter Living Your Financial Experience curriculum, seventh- and eighth-graders examined career choices and decision making, learning about banking, budgeting and bills.

The program later added high school students, and a school garden serves as an outdoor environmental science laboratory.

More than 100 10th-graders practiced problem-solving and group decision making while learning about garden design, soils, and plant growth and development. Additional health-related lessons explored food advertising, label reading, food purchasing and food tasting.

Green Oaks teacher Annie McCulloch has worked with the project for two years, providing leadership for the STEM club’s robotics project and adding hands-on learning experiences to her high school biology classes.

AgCenter educator Grace White works with McCulloch to coordinate the weekly hands-on biology laboratory lessons on topics like DNA extraction and how disease pathogens spread to help students see the science beyond the textbook.

“My students love it because it is so interactive — once they do the hands-on portion, a light bulb goes off and they see how their notes apply to the lesson content,” McCulloch said.

Senior Demarquies Carey said the classes have helped him make better decisions. “The things I do now will affect me later on,” he said.

Weekly health and fitness programs presented in physical education classes have provided students with digital fitness wristbands for recording the number of steps taken and calories burned, said AgCenter associate Jessica Sherrill.

“Students are using the fitness bands only during class at school for now; then they get to take them home,” Sherrill said.

Koriyuna Hawthorne said, “I’ve never used fitness bands before — it was amazing to me.” She likes running and exercising and learned how to balance calories burned with food intake to balance her weight.

“Incorporating a fitness component this year fits into our curriculum and teaches how to live a healthy lifestyle, stay active while building some self-esteem these students need,” physical education teacher Jessica Elie said.

The CYFAR project also sponsored a community-based teen leadership summit to develop goal-setting, communication and leadership skills for Green Oaks students and supported a regional 4-H leadership summit, hosting more than 300 teens from 12 northwest Louisiana parishes.

Survey results from the CYFAR leadership programs indicate that 100 percent of the participants reported that the program has helped them determine needs, set goals, solve problems and respect others, said AgCenter regional 4-H coordinator Karen Martin.

“Ninety-nine percent of the participants involved in the regional 4-H leadership summit learned that their leadership efforts can impact others,” Martin said.

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LSU AgCenter associate Jessica Sherrill collects worksheets from students who participated in a fitness scavenger hunt during a physical education class at Green Oaks Performing Arts Academy in Shreveport. The students used fitness bands to record their physical activity as part of a federally funded Children, Youth and Families at Risk project. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter educator Grace White assists Green Oaks Academy students with a hand-washing experiment as part of a weekly hands-on biology laboratory lessons sponsored by the Children, Youth and Families at Risk project. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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