Louisiana 4-H connects with youth in innovative ways

(04/02/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — COVID-19 safety measures have dramatically altered traditional ways of delivering educational information to children. The LSU AgCenter Louisiana 4-H Youth and Development program has adapted its methods of service to fit into 4-H members’ current schoolhouses: their homes.

“This is a challenging time, but we are definitely witnessing lots of creativity and innovation in program delivery,” said AgCenter 4-H coordinator Lanette Hebert.

“I’m trying to do a daily spotlight of a 4-H member on social media and reaching out to people one-on-one,” said Brooke LaFargue, AgCenter 4-H agent in Allen Parish. “Now that we’re working remotely, we’ve also had to reach them in ways other than general posts on Facebook and Instagram.”

Iberia Parish is planning a virtual 4-H Achievement Day where 4-H’ers can participate in some familiar competitions, such as photography. 4-H agents in St. James and East Feliciana parishes pooled their resources to create a Virtual Challenge Week, offering prizes to winners of contests ranging from talent videos to pictures of their puppies on National Puppy Day.

“They’ve had fun with that, and it keeps them regularly engaged with us,” said Dawn Culbreath, AgCenter 4-H agent in St. James Parish. “The kids have told us they look forward to the social media posts first thing in the morning to see if they won.”

Louisiana 4-H has teamed with LSU AgCenter Communications to create a Virtual Recess for the AgCenter website and social media platforms. The daily posts include children’s math, science and health projects, including how to make a dipnet for a pond, how to build a toothpick bridge and how to do a clean teeth experiment.

The website for Louisiana 4-H’s Virtual Recess is at bit.ly/4-Hvirtualrecess, and the Louisiana 4-H Facebook page is at bit.ly/LA4-Hfacebook.

“We saw this as a great opportunity to take the wealth of content 4-H has and turn it into daily activities that will keep youngsters’ minds and bodies active,” said Tobie Blanchard, LSU AgCenter Communications director.

Meetings between agents and their 4-H’ers are taking place on conferencing applications such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

“We’ve already had virtual junior leadership meetings,” said Brittany Zaunbrecher, AgCenter 4-H agent in Cameron Parish. “We’re preparing for events like 4-H camp and 4-H University. They nominated officers for next year using a survey software called Qualtrics, and they will be voting virtually as well.”

“4-H has conditioned me to have better time management, so I’m still getting things done,” said Gabby Gay, Cameron Parish junior leader president.

At a time when technology rules the day, there’s a spotlight on traditional 4-H skills such as sewing and cooking. 4-H cooking clubs are circulating recipes on social media, while East Baton Rouge 4-H’er A.B. Perk is taking it to a different level.

“I’m creating one easy recipe a day for 30 days on Facebook — some on Facebook Live,” said Perk, who also grows many of her own ingredients. “I want to help other young people learn new dishes and have some fun in the kitchen.”

“During this time, I’m using past 4-H lessons like healthy recipes from the 4-H Food and Fitness Board that I filed away,” said Gay, who plans to study nutrition in college. “I just made sweet potato brownies.”

4-H’ers across the state are continuing efforts to keep themselves and others healthy.

“We have historically helped out in a time of crisis, but it’s harder now because we can’t get out and serve food and things like that,” said AgCenter 4-H coordinator Esther Boe. “Agents are posting directions on how to make protective masks for hospital personnel, and youth across the state are making them.”

“I saw a post about sewing and donating masks,” said Victoria Dupuis, AgCenter 4-H agent in Lafayette Parish. “I decided to make a video with tips I had gathered from various sources to make the process easier for beginners.”

“We’re donating fabric for masks, and on our junior leaders Instagram, we’re encouraging 4-H’ers to still be active and talk to people,” Gay said.

Youth in St. James Parish have gathered donations of necessary items for those in need. One 4-H’er donated his butchered hog from the livestock project — 200 pounds of pork — to the needy, Culbreath said.

The statewide youth organization also gives members an outlet to continue healthy outdoor activities they were doing before the coronavirus crisis began.

4-H’ers Jennifer and Heather Kyzar are sisters who compete in the 4-H shooting sports program in East Baton Rouge Parish. The homeschooled youth are continuing to regularly practice their archery skills.

And they have some advice for those now forced to homeschool.

“Besides doing schoolwork in your PJs, you get to work at your own pace,” said Jennifer Kyzar. “You can move ahead if the material is easy or work longer on the same skill if you need to.”

“Even though it’s hard being stuck at home, you can still stay in touch with your friends through texts and handwritten letters,” said Heather Kyzar. “And you can use this time to bond with your family.”

A video about the Kyzars is online at https://youtu.be/ZJJ0Te5LRLY.

4-H is the largest youth organization in Louisiana, and it continues to thrive because of strong support from volunteers and parents.

“Our 4-H agents are stepping up with ways to keep in contact — using more technology, posting educational lessons — and that’s very comforting to the youth and their families,” Boe said.

“We’re asking them to share pictures with us of what they’re doing with their families right now,” LaFargue said. “One family built a raised-bed garden and also bought some chicks to raise.”

“Teens are spending so much time staring at screens and less time running around outdoors, so I think it is awesome when our 4-H members can reconnect with nature and with their families,” she said.

During this time of uncertainty and social distancing, Louisiana 4-H leaders are using creative ideas to help bring youth and families closer together, maintaining a sense of normalcy and balance.

“From touching base through virtual meetings to coordinating service efforts, 4-H is still a visible and valuable presence,” Hebert said.

“Change has always been scary, but we decided as a junior leader club, we need to push ahead,” Gay said. “We’re still moving on in our lives — staying positive and staying together.”

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West Feliciana Parish 4-H’er Audrey Reinhardt shows one of the face masks she made for medical workers amid a shortage of personal protective equipment. Audrey is a member of the Sewing Project Club, carrying on the tradition of girls 4-H sewing clubs from the early 1900s. Louisiana 4-H continues to maintain connections with the members in their club. Photo provided by the Reinhardt family

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Harvey, left, and Henry Prejean, 4-H members in Allen Parish, admire chicks they’re raising. The boys and their family also built a raised garden bed and planted vegetables. Louisiana 4-H continues to maintain connections with the members in their club. Photo provided by the Prejean family

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A.B. Perk, a 4-H’er in East Baton Rouge Parish, works to create a recipe as it’s shown on Facebook Live. Perk is a member of the 4-H cookery project and is her school’s cooking club president. Louisiana 4-H continues to maintain connections with the members in their club. Photo provided by Michelle Perk

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Sisters Jennifer, left, and Heather Kyzar, East Baton Rouge Parish 4-H’ers, continue practicing archery during weeks when the state has been in lockdown due to the coronavirus. Louisiana 4-H continues to maintain connections with the members in their club. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter

4/2/2020 6:56:20 PM
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