2012-04-12 / Features

4-H Clubs Expand Beyond Showing Off Cows, Sheep

By Michael Neary
CAPITAL JOURNAL

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) – Surrounded by animals, Emily Ketteler grew up on a farm – so joining 4-H was a logical move for her when she was 7 years old. That's when she and her mom began attending meetings.

Quite a bit has changed since then. Ketteler, now 18 years old, is a senior at Riggs High School and president of the Jolly Rustlers, a 4-H club with members from Stanley and Hughes counties. She's also a member of the South Dakota 4-H Youth Council.

The menu of 4-H activities in clubs like the Jolly Rustlers has also grown.

“It's not just about showing your beef cow or sheep anymore,” Ketteler said.

Ketteler said ecoscience and a variety of career activities have come to play big parts in her 4-H work. The broadening is part of a nationwide effort to expand the thematic reach of 4-H.

South Dakota has followed the cue of the national 4-H program by broadening its emphasis to include a new science focus in programs tailored to urban as well as rural young people. The programming has expanded in other ways, as well.

“We have realized that 4- H can (create) life-skill learning for everybody – not just the rural population,” said Mark Rowen, the 4-H program adviser for Stanley, Hughes and Sully counties. Rowen entered the position after a budget-driven reorganization a few months ago.

Rowen said the movement to broaden the 4-H focus occurred at least in part because of the growing concentration of people, especially young people, in cities. But he said tweaking the 4-H programs could help a state such as South Dakota, as well, even if urban centers are sparser than in other states.

Marv Schumacher, who recently won a $2,500 Monsanto community grant for the Prairie Wins 4-H Council in Hughes County, agreed that 4-H participation has ventured outside of the traditional agricultural focus. He noted that his two daughters' 4-H activities include photography and various kinds of artistic projects.

His children, he said, have been able to participate extensively even though they don't raise the sorts of animals generally associated with 4-H.

The new 4-H focus is particularly entwined with skills related to science, technology, engineering and math – frequently referred to as STEM – according to Rowen. That doesn't mean a wholesale change in activities, however. Rowen said some 4-H staples such as baking use plenty of science, but now the language of science enters 4-H program explanations of those activities more frequently. The bread doesn't just rise, he said. The byproduct of carbon dioxide is released into the dough.

Other activities are relatively new. Rowen builds airpowered rockets, for instance, and tries to help children understand the aerodynamics behind the launches. That's something that wouldn't have occurred in the 4-H activities of a generation ago.

The description of such activities in the 2011 South Dakota 4-H Division Handbook is decidedly scientific. “After completing launches, plot the amount of water and air pressure used for each launch along with the height achieved,” reads one section. “ ... Use this data to improve the rocket's performance.”

But not all the activities revolve around science, said Emily Ketteler.

Ketteler said she's done lots of artistic work through 4-H, ranging from woodburning stencils to computer generated images.

Art, she said, offers a freedom not available in other disciplines – and that's usually not associated with the hard sciences.

“Nobody can say you're doing it wrong,” she said, “because it's your own perspective.”

That sort of flexibility marks one of the reasons Ketteler said she continues with 4-H activity more than a decade after her first meeting.

“There’s not so many guidelines of what you have to be interested in,” she said. “You can be interested in anything and be a part of it.”

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