Virtual becomes reality

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Matilda Boyette, fifth grader in Calcasieu Parish 4-H, made 25 masks for Baton Rouge General Hospital.

“As students transitioned to attending school virtually, the Louisiana 4-H Youth Development Program was quick to respond with providing outlets for youth to be stimulated with fun, hands-on educational activities,” said 4-H Youth Development Department Head Janet Fox.

4-H professionals were flexible in meeting the needs of 4-H youth. Many parishes featured variations of more traditional 4-H educational activities while others initiated new ideas for engagement. Virtual pet shows, cooking demonstrations, fishing tournaments, photography contests and talent competitions were just a few of the engagement opportunities offered to 4-H members.

“Following quarantine orders in Calcasieu Parish, the 4-H agents felt that continuing contact with our 4-H families was of vital importance,” said Carrie Lane, 4-H agent. “The weekly coffee house conversations were a way for agents to not only keep members and their families updated on 4-H happenings, but also they served as an outlet to stay connected to each other when in-person contact was not possible.”

Sabine Parish 4-H members took the virtual pet show one step further, practicing public speaking skills with videos in which they introduced their pets.

“I thought I was setting the bar high for them, but the youth have really met that expectation,” said Nan Arthur, Sabine Parish 4-H agent. “They were naturals.”

Union Parish 4-H’ers showed their artistic talents in Chalk-It-Up, a sidewalk chalk art competition.

“We just wanted to involve youth in an activity that would brighten their day and get them outside to breathe some fresh air,” said Brandon Reeder, Union Parish 4-H agent.

Not all program delivery was through the web.

“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,” said Joanna Strong, Richland Parish 4-H agent. “Because Facebook is not generally the preferred online platform for most teenagers or younger youth, emails, text messages and newsletters were used to work around that.”

Louisiana 4-H specialists and 4-H agents collaborated to provide daily experiential learning lessons, videos and contest opportunities.

"Louisiana 4-H's Virtual Recess was an effort to continuously interact with youth and volunteers through various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube,” said Christina Hebert, 4-H college and career readiness specialist.

Virtual Recess provided daily educational lessons to parents and youth across the state on the environment and outdoors, leadership, citizenship and service, entrepreneurship and business, plants and animal science, creative arts, and food and healthy living. A total of 37 daily educational modules were created and disseminated, reaching over 102,816 people through August 2020.

“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 that will continue into the future,” said 4-H Regional Coordinator Ashley Powell.

Virtual camp is in session

In early 2020, the Louisiana 4-H Virtual Summer Camp Program developed quickly as COVID-19 spread in Louisiana. For the first time, campers were able to participate in virtual educational tracks that they chose themselves from their own homes.

Campers and their families participated in an online discussion via social media, informing us on what specific topics they were interested in learning more about this summer. Four of the most popular responses were adapted to a virtual format: SET (science, engineering and technology), photography and videography, animal and food science, and gardening.

“Through guided videos, live-streamed events, prerecorded pledges, camp songs and dances, campers had the opportunity to attend 4-H Summer Camp virtually from the comfort and safety of their own homes during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Louisiana,” said Adam O’Malley, Camp Grant Walker 4-H program coordinator.

These were open to all students and not limited to current 4-H members or to Louisiana residents. Nearly 1,400 students from 30 states, and at least four other countries, registered to participate in Louisiana 4-H Virtual Summer Camp. More than 46% of registrants were not currently 4-H members, which highlighted the vast potential of virtual programming to recruit and retain prospective members. Social media analyses indicated a total reach of nearly 13,000 people.

With 1,372 total registrants, some of whom were registered for multiple track options, Virtual Summer Camp experienced much success in the program’s pilot year, and 120 youth registered from states outside of Louisiana. The Virtual Summer Camp also welcomed students from Mexico, Japan and India.

Another virtual camp, Leadership for a Better Louisiana, was designed to inspire youth to lead and serve in a virtual environment by allowing them to develop the framework for a youth-led service-learning project in their communities. The live, monthlong, interactive and free virtual learning experience focused on leadership development using the social change model of leadership development.

The virtual leadership camp's overarching goal was to create a supporting and collaborative environment for youth to identify their leadership potential while working in virtual teams to achieve a common goal. The virtual leadership experience was spread out over one month with four live virtual sessions of two hours. Three 4-H state office staff served as instructors, while four Louisiana 4-H National Conference Delegates served as ambassadors and team leaders. Sessions were designed to keep youth interested and engaged across the entire two-hour session with the use of virtual games and technology tools and numerous opportunities for youth to engage in session discussions.

A total of 142 youth from communities across Louisiana participated in the live virtual leadership camp experience. Session recordings posted to various social media platforms received an additional 1,818 views, increasing the reach to approximately 8,888 additional people.

“Beyond missing out on school and numerous fun educational experiences, the pandemic shutdown has left many of us, including our youth, wanting to help our neighbors and communities, but not sure exactly where and how we can put our talents and skills to good use,” Meggan Franks, volunteer and leadership development specialist. “Leadership for a Better Louisiana was designed to allow youth to learn how to lead while exercising their technology, communication and teamwork skills.”

Unmasking service from a distance

State 4-H Fashion Board members, 4-H members and 4-H volunteers from across Louisiana answered the call to serve during COVID-19 with the construction of 3,225 masks that were worth $16,125 in donated fabric and accessories. Through this service, over 8,062 hours were contributed for a value of $205,029.38 in volunteer time.

“My mom and I initially started out making masks only for emergency personnel, but when the CDC started recommending masks for everyone, we started sewing for everyone,” said state 4-H Fashion Board volunteer and former member Aimee Perret, a teacher at Bridgedale Elementary in Jefferson Parish. “I was most excited to provide a mask to the EMT that helped me in the aftermath of an unexpected home birth. It was nice to be able to give back to someone that helped me.”

4-H University goes virtual for the first time

During the third week of June each year, 4-H members from across the state flock to the LSU campus in Baton Rouge for three days of contests, educational programs, assemblies and leadership board interviews. However, the 106th annual 4-H University will be remembered for being the first-ever virtual 4-H University. With the Ignite Your Vision theme, youth leadership board members and 4-H professionals were challenged to create a new virtual vision for 4-H. Elections were held online, and 4-H members participated in their contests from the comfort of their homes. Nightly assemblies featured recognition ceremonies, fashion shows and the talent preview. Over 675 4-H members participated in 20 virtual contests while some 4-H members ran for the Louisiana 4-H Executive Board and interviewed for state 4-H leadership boards. 4-H members made the best of a different — or difficult — situation.

“The sheer magnitude of developing the virtual 4-H University took the efforts of many dedicated 4-H professionals, IT specialists and youth,” said Janet Fox, 4-H department head. “We all had a steep learning curve, but in the end I’m so proud and amazed by the responsiveness of our 4-H professionals and the resilience of our 4-H members.”

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"At the time of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Louisiana 4-H realized the need and importance to immediately transition some of the educational programming to a virtual format. As we began to see the pandemic continuing, we realized that virtual program delivery was going to become the norm. With the help of innovative and creative agents, specialists and information technology staff we were — and still are — providing significant components of our program virtually. From the development of virtual contests, recognition events, camps and even 4-H dances, Louisiana 4-H has continued serving the youth and being relevant in these unprecedented times."

- Toby Lepley, LSU AgCenter Associate Vice President and 4-H Program Leader

"Louisiana 4-H's Virtual Recess was an effort to continuously interact with youth and volunteers through various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube."

- Christina Hebert, 4-H College and Career Readiness Specialist

3/10/2021 4:39:24 PM
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