4-H leaders have a new tool to help Spanish-language families understand the value of 4-H activities to their young people. Cintia Aguilar and her N.C. Cooperative Extension colleagues have developed a fotonovela – a book similar to a graphic novel with photos – to tell the story of 4-H in both English and in Spanish.
Aguilar, Extension associate and Latino affairs facilitator with N.C. Cooperative Extension based at N.C. State University, said the fotonovela is a medium familiar to most Latino cultures. In some countries, it is popularly used as a romance novel. In the Unites States, the fotonovela has been used to teach Latino farmworkers about work safety and Latino families about health and nutrition.
4-H has sought ways to attract Latino members, and some clubs have been very successful. Yet the concept of clubs and extracurricular school activities can be confusing to Latino parents, who sometimes see these activities as unrelated to the formal education their children receive in school or to their educational goals.
“We have to explain the concept of ‘extracurricular,’ and what a ‘club’ is about,” Aguilar said. “Based on the parents’ experience in their native countries or growing up in the Latino culture, they may think of clubs as an option only available to wealthy families, like private social clubs. In a focus group, parents stated that when they hear the word ‘club,’ they think of ‘nightclubs.’”
The Latino families who volunteered to be photographed for the fotonovela project were part of the Orange County Juntos/Together Program group, a dropout prevention initiative developed by Aguilar and Dr. Andrew Behnke of N.C. 4-H Youth Development . The families represented several Latino countries , including Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. Aguilar also found a design company familiar with the fotonovela concept.
In the book, Rocio is a high school student who wants to join a 4-H robotics club. Robotics is one of the 4-H curricula offered in North Carolina. Rocio’s mother Rosa and her friend Lorena are afraid the club will be too expensive and that it will distract Rosa and her friend Marilyn from their studies and other responsibilities at home.
The story goes on to show Aguilar and 4-H Extension Agent Craig Tucker (formerly of Orange County) visiting with Rocio’s parents to explain more about the 4-H club. Aguilar, who portrayed herself, explains in the book that U.S. colleges and universities look for students who are involved in activities beyond the school day.
4-H Agent Tucker explains the concept of 4-H to Rocio’s parents. He also explains that joining the club is free, though there may be some expenses for projects. Clubs sometimes raise funds to help members defer the costs of projects, he says.
After talking with Tucker and Aguilar, Rocio’s parents are more receptive to letting her participate in the club. They also talk with Mrs. Vargas, who explains the role of volunteer 4-H club leaders.
In addition, a section of the fotonovela focuses on a real 4-H club – Lee County’s Magetsi 4-H Club. Club leader Myrna Rodriguez and 4-H Agent Bill Stone explain how the club has helped the members become more confident in their public speaking skills, using English — their second language. Magetsi focuses on promoting Latin dance. Former club member Lisbeth Arias, a junior at N.C. State University, explains how her involvement with Magetsi 4-H Club helped her succeed in college.
“The 4-H fotonovela is to be used as an educational tool,” Aguilar said. “We are making fotonovelas available to Latino families so that through Rocio’s story they can learn about the importance of extracurricular activities and 4-H. Consequently, the fotonovela may also become a recruitment and marketing tool. We recommend that Extension agents also visit a family to answer any questions. Because the fotonovela is printed in both English and Spanish, it will be a resource for folks who speak either language.”
At this point, there are a limited number of fotonovela copies available — each county received one copy. 4-H is exploring options to publish the fotonovelas as needed.
The fotonovela has been very well received among 4-H agents in North Carolina. “They have done a fantastic job of telling the 4-H story, almost a stump speech if you will,” said April Bowman, Forsyth County 4-H agent. “I know that even after 14 years of working with Cooperative Extension and growing up in 4-H, I have a hard time explaining a 4-H club. This booklet does a very good job.”
For more information on 4-H programs, or to see a copy of the fotonovela, contact your local center of N.C. Cooperative Extension. Visit www.ces.ncsu.edu/counties to locate your county center.