Michelle Simmons | July 2019

Youth Programs in your
Local Community

What resource is at your fingertips? One that you may not even know about? One that has people eager to help you, help your students, and your community through quality youth programs? That resource is the Cooperative Extension Service. These offices are in every county in the United States (and territories). They are literally extensions of a land-grant university.  

The Extension agent’s job is to relay the research from the university into the counties. Another job is to work with state and local governments to educate officials on issues in their respective communities. Where we live, The University of Florida is our land-grant university and is the home of our Extension Service.

So how does this relate to you as a teacher? We all know how important community and youth programs are to our students. These agents are committed to helping bring this information into their community. What better way than through the schools? (If you’re struggling for a plan of action, we have you covered!)

Below are 4 ways your Extension Office can help your classroom (and even you!).

4-H 

Whether you were involved or you know someone who was involved, you have probably heard of 4-H before. 4-H is the 6 million strong youth program associated with the Extension office. Their goal is to empower youth for a better tomorrow.

4H has so many benefits to a classroom. First, the 4H leaders are usually as passionate about children as teachers. They WANT children to succeed. 4-H programs range from STEM to public speaking. One of my favorite 4H programs is “Pizza Farm.” This program takes children on a journey through every part of a pizza. For example, where does the dough actually come from? What about the cheese? The pepperoni? This is one of the programs that 4-H is implementing this summer at my school for our daycare students.

Another program that is beneficial to any classroom is public speaking. My class participates in the 4-H Tropicana Speech Contest every year. This contest requires students from 4th to 8th grade to write a 2-3 minute speech and perform it. My students always blow me away with their speeches.

Our local 4H office holds mock job interviews for high school 4-H members. The students pick from a range of jobs and then go through a full interview to gain experience that will be beneficial later in life. The agents and panel provide the students constructive feedback to help them with future interviews. I know adults that would benefit from this kind of exercise!

I have so much to say about 4-H because of the impact it has had on me. And I am so proud to say my family is a generational 4-H family! 4-H is giving my children the skills they need to be successful adults, and that is evident.

Check out 4-H.org  to learn more about the programs and reach 4-H has not only locally, but globally.

Nutrition

Healthy eating is at the forefront of the news. We see all the “eat this… not that…” articles, posts, and videos. The extension office has agents to tackle this! The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) is a federally funded nutrition education youth program that is implemented through the local Extension office. Agents go into schools to teach healthy eating habits, food selection in the grocery store and promote living an active lifestyle.

Our 5th graders go through a 6-week program with the local EFNEP agent. She teaches the students about healthy eating and cooking. She pulls our cooking cart in the classroom and cooks with the students! The students are involved in every step of the cooking process from prep to clean-up. Nutrition day quickly becomes a student and teacher favorite because of the yummy and healthy treats the students create. My personal favorite is the smoothie!

Horticulture

Plants are a part of every science curriculum. A popular outreach/grant opportunity is a school garden. There is no better way of learning about plants than actually planting them. I know enough about plants to be dangerous with a budget and a garden. But Extension horticulture agents know exactly what to do! They are an invaluable resource when deciding what to plant and what layout to use. They can also assist with any troubleshooting that you may encounter along the way.

Our Extension Office recently planted a sensory garden. This garden has all different plants that appeal to the senses. Rough textures, smooth textures, soft and vibrant smells… you can find it all in the sensory garden. This is a favorite for students to see what all variants of textures and smells there are in plants. This lends itself to discussing texture in art as well. Extension horticulture agents can teach a variety of science-based lessons and help students understand the plant life cycle, water usage and about plant cells.

Agriculture and Natural Resources

It is always shocking to me when a student tells me that their food comes from a grocery store. I know, I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but alas the shock is still there! A major focus of agents is Agriculture awareness and educating youth about where their food comes from (pasture, field, etc.). They do this several ways. Some offer field trips to local farms while some agents bring items and products into the school to help educate students.

Both the Ag Agent and Natural Resource agent can be beneficial in a classroom. I have used both to help me teach life cycles, food chains, and landforms. The agriculture agent has come to my classroom to talk to my students about the effects of erosion in our community. I have also used these agents is to teach about invasive species and the effect they have on our local ecosystem. Currently, in Pensacola Bay, Lionfish have become a big issue. Agents are working with local and state officials to get the problem under control and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Locally, we have a Sea Grant Agent. (His job is the coolest.) He educates the community about all things that they may encounter in nature. Reptiles, snakes, amphibians are all in his wheelhouse. In the past two years, he has come to our Career Day to educate my class about aquatic animals that are common to our area. He brings all his scuba gear and the students are captivated. He educates the students on how we can be better stewards of our natural resources.

I urge you to reach out to your local Extension office to assist with your classroom next year. They are an invaluable resource to our community and our schools. I know that once you make the connection you will call on them for years to come.

About the Author

Michelle is a 5th grade ELA teacher in Pensacola, Florida. Originally from Mississippi, she has over seven years of experience in grades 2nd - 5th. She holds a Education Specialist Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Delta State University. Michelle is an avid lover of the arts and believes in using them as a gateway to broaden her students' understanding and compassion.