(04/27/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — Connecting with friends and participating with peers in learning activities is important for youth shuttered at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
LSU AgCenter 4-H agents are recreating 4-H Club experiences virtually to offer traditional and not-so-traditional programs to supplement classroom learning taking place now in homes across the state.
“Youth look forward to their 4-H Club activities each month, so it is important to stay connected during this time,” said Caldwell Parish 4-H agent Jana Bennett.
Most 4-H Clubs in Louisiana have enjoyed a co-curricular status with public and private schools, allowing for in-school club meetings and special events during the academic school year, said Janet Fox, AgCenter 4-H Youth Development department head.
“Now that students are completing their school assignments from home, online or virtual activities are providing opportunities for them to engage with their peers while contributing to their 4-H project work,” Fox said.
“The 4-H Youth Development program is excited to provide high-quality virtual educational enrichment that supports academics and the development of life skills,” she said.
Since most parish 4-H programs offer special awards for outstanding members based on participation in or completion of certain projects, many virtual events have been adapted to meet those criteria.
“We knew we would have to make adjustments during this time to help students receive that recognition they deserve,” Bennett said.
Online pet shows, talent competitions, and photography and art contests are just a few of the programs that are motivating youth to interact virtually.
Bennett hosted a virtual pet show on Facebook by first posting photos of her animals before inviting students to feature their own pets.
“We focused more on sharing and the responsibility for caring for a pet rather than selecting winners,” Bennett said.
Sabine Parish 4-Her’s took the pet challenge one step further, practicing public speaking skills with videos in which they introduced their pet and explained why it should be selected for first place, said 4-H agent Nan Arthur.
“I thought I was setting the bar high for them, but the youth have really met that expectation,” Arthur said. “They are naturals.”
The virtual pet shows in parish 4-H programs vary in their content and feature a variety of categories from Best Dressed, and Owner/Pet Look-alike to different species like farm animals and companion animals.
Working from home to meet restrictions due to the state’s stay-at-home order, AgCenter youth development professionals are conducting weekly online meetings to share ideas and develop plans to keep momentum going through the summer.
While some traditional programs have had to be moved to a virtual platform, much that has been learned about how to enhance our educational outreach will continue to have a place in parish programs, said 4-H regional coordinator Ashley Powell.
“We will all come out of this experience with new skills and new ideas,” she said.
Franklin Parish 4-H agent Kelly Lafferty moved her annual recycled art and poetry contests online so students can post photos or videos to share their accomplishments.
“It is just so important that the youth stay involved in 4-H. We know their world has changed, and we want to help,” Lafferty said.
Many parishes are featuring varying renditions of some of the more traditional 4-H activities while others are initiating creative new ideas.
“We thought it would be hilarious to do an ‘egg-citing’ photography event,” said Bossier Parish 4-H agent Jeannie Crnkovic.
To add a different twist to the standard photography contest, all photo entries must include an egg somewhere in the photo.
Union Parish 4-H'ers are showcasing their artistic talents in Chalk-It-Up, a sidewalk chalk art competition, said 4-H agent Brandon Reeder.
“We just wanted to involve youth in an activity that would brighten their day and get them outside to breathe some fresh air,” he said.
Even cooking contests have found a place online with weekly themed challenges emphasizing breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack recipes.
Richland Parish 4-H agent Joanna Strong first posted food safety tips and healthy recipes on Facebook, then encouraged 4-H Club members to prepare their favorite dish and submit a photo for the competition.
“Internet services are an issue, especially in rural areas where high-speed service is limited and may not be available for many families, but we are finding ways to work around that,” Strong said.
Because Facebook is not generally the preferred online platform for most teenagers or younger youth, Strong said, emails, text messages and newsletters are used to push pre-contest notifications to 4-H’ers and parents.
“Soon we will be able to come back together for club meetings, contests and camps. But until then, 4-H is still here to make learning fun and striving to make the best better,” Powell said.
More information about Louisiana 4-H youth development programs are available online at https://www.lsuagcenter.com/.
Plastic flowers were included in a recycled art show for Franklin Parish 4-H’ers.
Second-grader Piper Jones, a member of 4-H Cloverbuds in Richland Parish, displays cupcakes in a virtual cooking contest.