- Gilleland, Jeri Lynn
Beginning in mid-March, Ben Hill County 4-H staff reacted quickly to the onset of Covid-19 by planning and delivering virtual 4-H programs to stay connected with a core group of older youth. Through online meetings, judging practices, and special activities, the county took advantage of student accessibility. Students were home and not engaged in competing activities, so 4-H virtual activities were a way to stay connected and continue to build relationships with those youth as well as fill a void created by abrupt life changes. As a result, an active core group transitioned into fall 4-H activities. In addition, these 4-H members possess an acceptance toward virtual events and a positive attitude rare to so many their age for dealing with life challenges.
When schools went virtual and Extension began working from home in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the challenge became how to keep an active core group of junior and senior 4-H members (7th - 12th graders) interested and connected without face to face programming. There was already an established quick connection with this group of members through Remind messaging and email. As the students quickly transitioned to school online learning, their available hours became more flexible. They were home and they were in front of their computers. These older students were allowed to check out computers from the school for online learning if they did not have one at home. A window of advantage existed to reaching the students as other school and community activities had shut down with no plans for virtual contact.
Ben Hill County immediately started hosting virtual meetings, judging practices, and special activities, which allowed 4-H to fill the void in the lives of these youth during a time of uncertainty. Early on, this group of students were more accessible because other events and activities were cancelled, and Ben Hill County 4-H took advantage of that. During those spring months there were opportunities at least two to three times a week for students to participate in an online county 4-H activity. Junior club meetings and senior club meetings included special guests from the community who came on live to speak with the youth. Committee meetings were also held to plan summer day camp and the annual awards program. The youth quickly became involved in a community service project they could do virtually. They sent in inspirational quotes and which were designed with scenic backgrounds on business size cards to send as “pocket messages” to frontline hospital workers in neighboring counties. County poultry judging practices went online, even though it was doubtful there would be a face to face district contest. At first, practice turnout was great. As the weeks went on, the youth began to tire of virtual practices. To keep them interested, a date for a virtual county contest in April, with prizes, was announced. Attendance at practices increased, and the county contest winners were excited with their special prizes. In June, traditional county 4-H summer day camp was turned into a virtual event with this core group of teen leaders helping to plan and prepare five afternoons of experiences for rising 5th – 7th graders. Special representatives from across the nation came on the day camp sessions live from NASA, Yellowstone National Park, and the Federal Reserve Bank to teach lessons and interact with students. Teen leaders were also involved in teaching lessons that went along with their project work. Prior to camp, participants picked up an activity bag at the Extension office that included craft and lesson supplies that went along with daily activities. To keep seniors and juniors together into the summer months, Topic Tuesdays and Friday Fundays were initiated. Students gathered virtually for a different topic discussion each Tuesday, while Friday get-togethers were strictly virtual fun and games.
Word spread of the county virtual poultry judging contest and Ben Hill County conducted the contest for five other counties as well as gave tips and advice to two other districts on putting on a district contest. In an after-contest evaluation in April, the following results were obtained from a questionnaire that had members rank their answers on a continuum scale from 1-5. The following tabulations represent combined 3, 4 and 5 answers from 20 respondents: 90% said that because of the online poultry judging contest, they would be more comfortable with online learning; 70% indicated so with a 4 or 5 ranking (where 5 represents most comfortable). 70% said that, if a live contest were not an option, they would be interested in participating in other virtual events and competitions, including district and state events; 65% indicated so with a 4 or 5 on the scale (with a 5 ranking being highly interested). 100% felt they would be more prepared for a 2021 contest as a result of this year’s online practices, and 75% indicated the same with a 4 or 5 ranking (with 5 being definitely). 90% said they enjoyed the contest with a high level of satisfaction; 60% indicated so with a 4 or 5 (with 5 representing the highest satisfaction). 100% felt they definitely learned life lessons that would help them as a consumer; 85% indicated so with a 4 or 5 (with a 5 meaning the lessons would help a lot). In addition, the following additional comments were made. “I was expecting it to be super confusing, but it was quite simple. I was very impressed with how smoothly the contest went.” “The technological portion of the competition was not as confusing as I expected. The instructions on how to do these things were clear and it was very easy to manage. A few classes were harder to judge because we were not in-person, such as broken out and interior egg quality. Other than these things, the competition went just as smoothly as it does at the in-person competition. I’m glad I got the chance to compete despite the recent changes in our daily routine.” “I really enjoyed doing the poultry judging contest on Zoom.” Another impact of trying to keep all of core members active virtually through spring and summer months was that 18 Ben Hill County high school 4-H members signed up to participate in another virtual meeting: Southern Region 4-H Teen Leadership Conference. At a time when so many are tiring of virtual events, Ben Hill County teens stepped up to the plate to attend this virtual leadership event in late September. Rather than complain it was virtual, they adapted. Ben Hill had two members that led virtual workshops at the event, another member that served on the event’s planning committee, and had more participants at the 13-state event than did any other county in Georgia. One member commented that they “still created memories and made new friends even if it was virtual.” When so much of what is happening in the world lies out of their control, these 4-H youth are learning to adapt.
Youth & Family Development
- Year: 2020
- Geographic Scope: County
- County: Ben Hill
- Location: College Station, Athens
- 4-H Youth