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New school year kicks off 4-H year

News Release Distributed 08/06/14

BATON ROUGE, La. – As students prepare to board school buses and head back to the classroom, Louisiana 4-H is gearing up for a new year of projects and events that offer one-of-a-kind experiences for young people.

4-H is a youth development organization that emphasizes learning by doing. Members develop a diverse, lifelong skill set they can use to serve others, said Mark Tassin, LSU AgCenter program leader for 4-H youth and family development. Louisiana has about 250,000 4-H'ers.

4-H enrollment in Louisiana officially began on Aug. 1. Students who will be at least 9 years old but not older than 19 by January 2015 are eligible.

Many Louisiana 4-H Clubs are conducted at schools, and students can sign up through the teacher who leads their school's club. If a school doesn't have a 4-H Club, students can contact the 4-H agent in their parish. Some parishes have a community club, and if not, students can still join as a member-at-large.

At the beginning of every school year, 4-H members sign up for a project they work on all year with help from teachers, volunteers, extension agents or older 4-H'ers. Projects are available to suit all kinds of interests, including robotics, animals, outdoor skills and performing arts, Tassin said.

"The projects are an important component of the 4-H experience because it gives you a chance to master a skill related to something you like doing," he said. "Hopefully, it's something that will be useful to you in the long-run, plus it develops confidence."

4-H'ers also attend monthly hands-on, educational meetings where they learn about topics outside of their project area and build relationships with other students. Many clubs also participate in local service projects.

The highlight of many younger 4-H members' summer is 4-H camp, which offers different educational tracks as well as fun activities. It is based on the entire 4-H program, so campers learn valuable lessons about a variety of topics. More importantly, camp teaches them independence, responsibility and teamwork, Tassin said.

Club members between ages 13 and 19 can attend 4-H University, which is held every summer on LSU's Baton Rouge campus. At 4-H U, participants can compete in contests that coincide with their projects for the chance to win scholarships or trips or, in some cases, go on a national contest. They can also take Clover College courses, which are noncompetitive and allow youth to explore career areas in a small-group setting.

4-H U is the first time many young Louisianans visit Baton Rouge or LSU, Tassin said. The event lets them experience college life — they stay in LSU dormitories and have the chance to explore the campus. Through their contests or Clover College program and other 4-H U events, they also get to improve skills in areas they are interested in, which could lead them to a college major and, eventually, a career. State leadership board members are also elected at 4-H U.

4-H's roots are in agriculture, originating from corn clubs organized by extension pioneer Seaman Knapp. He believed in the power of demonstration, and he also believed that young people would be more open to new farming practices. Knapp hoped their success would convince farmers in the community to adopt new, better techniques.

The first corn club was founded in 1908 in Moreauville, Louisiana. Soon, more corn clubs as well as cotton, pig, canning and sewing clubs launched around the state. 4-H officially began six years later as part of the new Cooperative Extension Service.

4-H has evolved considerably since those early beginnings and is now the nation's largest youth development organization. But it has not strayed from Knapp's original idea to empower youth with knowledge that can positively change the lives of themselves and others.

That is reflected in the name 4-H, which refers to head, heart, hands and health. 4-H members pledge to apply the four H's to clearer thinking, greater loyalty, larger service and better living in order to improve their communities and the world.

"You could sum the value of 4-H up as developing confidence, caring and competence," Tassin said. "When young people learn those skills and put them to use, that benefits our whole society."

Olivia McClure

Last Updated: 8/6/2014 10:22:43 AM

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