Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 2, 2004

Students learn about rockets, water quality from 4-H after school programs

By David Cox

Building rockets, testing water quality, and learning how to be a smart shopper are examples of what young people may learn from after school programs, courtesy of 4-H.

The activities take place in several programs across McLeod, Carver, and Wright counties.

In McLeod County, 4-H Program Coordinator Jill Grams is working with McLeod County Social Services to develop programs for at-risk youth.

Grams is currently working at four sites in the county, and will add two additional sites next month.

The one-hour programs are conducted monthly at sites in Hutchinson, Glencoe, Silver Lake, and Lester Prairie, and serve young people from second through eighth grade.

In Hutchinson, 4-H Ambassadors are involved in the program and offer mentorships to some of the participants.

"The ambassadors are able to share their personal experiences and talk about the benefits they have received from participating in extracurricular activities," Grams said.

"The purpose of the program is to give participants options to point their energy in positive directions," Grams explained.

Part of the program involves adapting 4-H projects for the participants. This month they made winter survival kits that they can give their parents to carry in their cars.

Next month the topic will be food safety, and McLeod County Nutrition Education Assistant Dianne Kenning will teach the participants about proper food preparation and handling.

"They will then go out and conduct mini food safety experiments at some local restaurants and then come back and talk about what they have learned," Grams said.

In March, the topic will be "how to be a good consumer," and the participants will learn about how to improve their shopping skills.

"The After School Adventures Program is a way to bring 4-H to them. The kids enjoy it, and I enjoy seeing the kids," Grams stated.

The program is currently reaching more than 50 young people, and runs through the school year.

In Carver County, 4-H Coordinator Rachel Bender is working on a program called 4-H at the Libraries.

Using 4-H project themes, Bender meets with youth at the Watertown public library three Thursdays each month and at the Waconia library three Tuesdays each month.

"The participants range from kindergarten through sixth grade, depending on the site.

Participation has grown by word of mouth, and we work with whoever shows up at the time of the meeting," Bender said.

Bender is in the process of developing activities for future meetings. She stressed that 4-H projects cover a broad range of subjects.

In March, the topic will be aerospace and outer space. Activities may include building rockets and learning about star constellations.

In April there will be a creative arts them.

Activities will vary by location, but may include making wind socks and talking about the weather, making kaleidoscopes, and creating sand art projects.

"The world around you" is the topic for May. Activities may include talking about landfills, making flower lanterns, and conducting kitchen experiments.

"We are trying to give the kids different options and positive activities." Bender said. She hopes to be able to connect with other agencies and expand the program in the future.

Flyers containing more information about the 4-H in the library programs can be found at participating libraries.

In Wright County, young people may take part in activities at the Joy Visitation Center in Monticello.

There are also day camps, where students come to one location and work together all day on a project, said 4-H Program Coordinator Mary Ann Peterson.

An example of day camp may be testing the quality of local waterways, she said.

Other activities include making crafts, or identifying trees, grass, and weeds, she said.

There is also residence camp, which is a three-day event where students work together on projects, she said. For example, students may study a western theme about the history of cowboys, she said.

"Wright County Community Education is very big on after school programs. We try to work with and not duplicate, what they are already doing," Peterson said.

While their approach may be different based on the needs in their communities, the 4-H coordinators in each of these three counties, along with their volunteers and partner agencies, are continuing the tradition of providing opportunities for young people.

The 4-H program has continued to adapt and evolve for more than 100 years, and today it continues to provide learning opportunities in the areas of communication, leadership, career development, science, technology and much more to nearly 7 million young people in the US.

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