by: Bidemi Oladiran (AmeriCorps VISTA)
Members from National 4-H Council visited the Baltimore County 4-H office on April 20th. Nia Imani Fields and Dwayne Murphy took members of council on a site tour of two esteemed 4-H programs and partnerships. The first was a visit to Old Court Middle School where 4-H has implemented a Bay Stewards program since 2014 led by Krisztian Varsa, Dwayne Murphy, Anna Glenn and Nia Imani Fields.
4-H also partners with these Watershed Restoration and Urban Horticulture educators to facilitate an in-school enrichment program centered on the Junior Master Gardener curricula. Ms. Bass, one of Old Court’s esteemed teachers, is engaged with both the Saturday Bay Stewards program and in-school AVID class. Members of the tour were excited to get engaged in the experiential lesson about hydrogels; which also happened to be a previous National 4-H Science Experiment lesson. Students learned that using hydrogels in plant soil would help plants retain more water. This tactic could allow people to conserve water, which could be useful is regions that experience drought.
The tour of Old Court continued as we were led by two youth members of the Bay Stewards program who served as our guide. Being a part of the program and same grade wasn’t all they had in common; they also had very similar names— Camren and Camiryn.
The students took us on a tour of their native garden that they helped plant and told us about the importance of using plants native to Maryland. Both students answered various questions from 4-H Council about their experiences in the program. They expressed their joy for having had the opportunity to better understand their environment and how litter and pollution isn’t just a problem for someone else to solve but a problem for everyone. The students also conveyed their dismay from the previous year, when they first planted their trees only to have it uprooted. However, they displayed their dedication to the program and community while having a second chance to plant replacement trees this year!
After the tour, Council had a chance to sit down with Ms. White, one of the teachers who also works with the Saturday Bay Stewards program, and Ms. Shipman who is the assistant principal of Old Court Middle school. Both relayed their positive experience and the students’ excitement for the lessons that 4-H provides and how 4-H has always been able to meet whatever needs the school has.
The second site visited was Sweet Potato Kids. The group was led on a tour by the founder and director, Mrs. Michelle Hall-Davis. Mrs. Hall-Davis was a former Extension Advisory Committee (EAC) member and was also the Maryland 4-H partner of the year in 2013. In 2014 she also won the Baltimore County 4-H after school program of the year award. Her partnership with 4-H has been on-going for over 10 years and the Council was pleased to be able to see a long term partnership in the works. Mrs. Hall-Davis was able to inform the Council of how her upbringing in being able to raise plants with her father as this influenced her love of agriculture and gardening. She explained how she “loves to play in dirt” and how planting and working in the soil with her hands gives her a sense of peace. She also explained that many students interested in STEM focus on the technology aspect, but often forgets things like healthy living, and agriculture and how that too is a part of STEM. This is something Sweet Potato Kids offers to their youth. The Sweet Potato Kids 4-H club goes beyond just doing experiments, it helps to foster tomorrow’s leaders by teaching them hard and soft skills like better communication and closer comradery among their peers.
All in all, the site tours concluded with the members of the 4-H council receiving a better understanding of what 4-H faculty and University of Maryland Extension staff are doing here at Baltimore County and worldwide.