“Dr. Bob Patterson’s class re-sparked my interest in vegetable and crop production,” said Duplin County 4-H Program assistant Charmae Kendall.
Crop and soil sciences classes attract students pursing diverse career paths. On her journey to an ag education degree, Kendall enrolled in Patterson’s “Introduction to Crop Science” class. She’s picking knowledge-based full-time classes to benefit her work with the 4-H students she misses dearly right now.
“Our 4-H programs target students ages 5-18. A lot of these kids don’t play ball or an instrument, but in 4-H there’s something for everyone,” Kendall said. Normally, her schedule is brimming with school enrichment projects and scheduled field trips, all of which have been canceled this spring. “It’s been a punch in the gut to me as a people person. But I’m grateful there are virtual ways for us to connect with our 4-H families.”
During most springtimes, Kendall is knee-deep in livestock shows, a chick embryology program, and her “Smithfield Pig Project” where students caretake donated piglets to raise and market for profit. These programs have been canceled this year.
“This [new online format] is definitely a challenge – but also an opportunity to get out of my box and reach kids in a new way,” Kendall said.
Online Programs Spring Up
Unwilling to lose touch with her students, Kendall has launched several online activities that 4-Hers can use in their annual project books. There was a five-week community service challenge with themed activities such as making thank you cards for local caregivers, helping local shut-ins, and donating to a community food drive. She posted the weekly challenges on Facebook and provided a spreadsheet for students to fill in.
“It’s not about the quantity they do – even helping one person is great,” Kendall said. “There’s even a prize if they participate(d) all five weeks.”
Then, she held an online home gardening project hosted by Chloe Clover (an agricultural Flat-Stanley-type character) who joined in the agricultural lessons.
“Gardening is something they can do at home right now. We want to teach them everything about growing, cooking, and enjoying the produce.”
Kendall also points to another program they’ve adapted to the virtual world – the 12-county “Coastal Plains Chicken Project.” Usually, over 130 students from across eastern North Carolina apply to receive layer or broiler hens to raise for a chicken show culminating in May.
That show didn’t happen this year. But Kendall’s Extension office was able to distribute the laying hens this year and complete a “Caring for Your Bird” workshop in early February before quarantine orders. Kendall and a team of agents from several counties are now planning online showmanship workshops to help participants prepare for a virtual poultry show. Students will produce videos of themselves “presenting” their birds and responding to a list of required questions.
“We’ve never had to do it like this before, but we didn’t want to give it up!” Kendall said.
Inspired to Think and Do More
Her online NC State classes have kindled her imagination for her 4-H work.
“Even though my class with Dr. Patterson is online, I’ve been amazed by the personal connection he makes with each of his students,” Kendall said. “I thought I was a people person, but he has made me want to raise my game! He inspires me to continue to find new ways to reach out to my 4-H families and to let them know I am here to help in any way I can, not only in this challenging time, but every day in the future.”
Kendall’s ability to engage with students is providing welcomed continuity for local families.
“The first few weeks of quarantine, we were just canceling everything. But now we are keeping busy,” she said. “These kids are my kids – my family. People need to keep in contact with one another right now. For teens, it’s nice to have at least one good friend – which isn’t easy in those years. We [in Extension] are focused on keeping in touch and just sharing some love.”
For all of Charmae Kendall’s efforts to stay connected with her students, 4-H parents in Duplin County must surely reflect her love.
Want Your Own Connection?
Have a NC school-age child who would benefit from 4-H? Find a program near you, explore NC Extension programs or find home activities to keep kids busy.
Do you know a high school student who is interested in crop or soil sciences? NC State students learn from professors like Dr. Bob Patterson every day.
Reprinted with permission from the author, Jennifer Howard, at N.C. State University.