4-H program continues to mentor local youth during crisis

In May 2018, Chad Johnson with the McKean County Livestock Committee tags the ear of a Berkshire pig, which Garrett Cooper holds, at a McKean County 4-H livestock tagging/weigh-in event at the McKean County Fairgrounds.

With well over 100 years of experience teaching life skills to youth, Pennsylvania’s 4-H program continues to provide support to local youth, even now.

According to Patty Anderson, area Extension educator, 4-H staff are finding different ways to mentor young participants while keeping them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anderson explained that clubs are allowed to meet virtually, so they are using Zoom to have sessions with area 4-H’ers.

“Some are waiting for schools to be taking less of the student time because they are getting weary of the ‘screen time,’” she noted.

Anderson explained that it is up to leaders to make sure youth in local clubs have social and educational opportunities.

“However, some youth have difficulties because of lack of internet availability,” she said. “In these cases, we are trying to follow up with paper copies, or phone instruction. There are restrictions on what leaders are permitted to do and how they can meet to assure child safety compliance is assured. These include having at least two adults on the meeting, restricted access to the meeting room, youth joining with first names only, and family engagement if possible.”

According to Anderson, 4-H continues to find ways to engage participants. They are thinking ahead to summertime, too.

“As a state organization we are developing many experiences in which the youth may participate,” she explained. “This includes: officer training, leadership development experiences, Quality Animal Management education, and in home self-guided project experiences. We are making plans for virtual summer activities including day camps.”

Though the clubs can’t gather, youth must still care for any animals they have.

If they have questions or need help, Anderson said they can still contact their club leaders virtually.

“They also have the opportunity to participate in specific subject matter experiences with our Quality Animal Management programs,” she added. “All extension offices have the phones connected to staff members that allow youth/adults to ask questions to extension educators. We are also processing requests to mail information like project books and support materials to registered members.”

As to how social distancing efforts might affect future 4-H gatherings, such as the county fairs, no one knows yet.

“At this point we are not able to know what these implications may be,” said Anderson. “This will be determined by the PA Department of Agriculture which is the agency that governs the fairs in Pennsylvania.”

McKean County has about a dozen active 4-H clubs. Penn State Extension administers the 4-H program in every county of Pennsylvania, and McKean County’s Extension office is located in Smethport.

The four H’s in the organization’s name stand for head, heart, hands and health.

For more information on Pennsylvania’s 4-H program, visit https://extension.psu.edu/programs/4-h

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