Making the Best Better, Virtually

A female 4-H'er stands with her dairy steer and North Carolina Cooperative Extension 4-H Agent Holly Jordan during the 2020 WNC Livestock Expo.

Henderson County 4-H'er Ivory Eatmon (left) shows off her prize-winning dairy steer alongside N.C. Cooperative Extension 4-H Agent Holly Jordan (right) at the 2020 WNC Livestock Expo.

NC State Extension 4-H camps and hands-on enrichment activities provide thousands of youth with opportunities to socialize and learn practical skills spanning agriculture, animal husbandry, STEM, responsible and informed citizenship, career development and more. After being forced to reevaluate all in-person youth programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, 4-H had to rapidly transition programming to an online format to continue providing educational enrichment to students already coping with school closures.

Extension professionals developed new content, outreach strategies and educational approaches to deliver valuable 4-H resources to a virtual audience. 4-H launched a new virtual program called 4-H Daily Spark almost immediately after North Carolina closed schools. Daily Spark, a livestream series on Facebook, reached thousands of youth across the state and beyond with programs such as ACT prep, bee keeping, farm day adventures and preparing healthy snacks.

In another effort, 21 Extension professionals crossed county and program lines to create a new program for young plant enthusiasts called Plant Geeks Unite. The program provided 248 youth (ages 4 to 17) with a self-guided, multimedia curriculum and frequent opportunities to collaborate with other students.

The pandemic threatened to halt livestock shows and horse judging contests that have allowed countless 4-H’ers to cultivate their skills and engage with their communities. But thanks to 4-H families and the leaders and Extension professionals who support them, the events continued in 2020 and drew national attention. 4-H professionals and animal science educators from a dozen states reached out to NC State Extension for virtual event ideas, and the New York Times covered a 4-H’er’s participation in the first virtual version of Tyrrell County’s 71-year-old annual livestock show.

In addition, 4-H offered Summer 2020 CAMP OUT!, a five-day virtual camping experience with three 30-minute daily sessions focused on North Carolina ecology education and socializing activities. CAMP OUT! Reached 550 families across 79 North Carolina counties and 17 states. As a result, 96% percent of participants reported a fun and engaging experience, and 99% indicated interest in attending 4-H camps in the future.

4-H also continued to participate in an annual national 4-H STEM challenge. This year’s challenge, Mars Base Camp, provided youth with the opportunity to explore Mars while building skills in coding and other STEM activities, civic engagement, healthy living and agriculture. Twenty after-school sites and over 2,000 students participated in the 2020 challenge.

Statewide, over 20,000 youth participated in 4-H enrichment programs in 2020, thanks to 4-H efforts to continue hosting activities and club meetings online throughout the pandemic.

Discover more about how to get involved with N.C. 4-H.

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