Ohio 4-H is open for business, and we’ve gone virtual! When The Ohio State University locked buildings to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in March, including county Extension offices, it understandably took the public some time to realize that programming would continue. After all, the staff members who were fixtures in their communities were no longer in their usual spots.
But 4-H professionals were still at their desks, with those offices now located in living rooms, spare bedrooms, and basements across Ohio, with computers now vying for space on kitchen and dining room tables. Within days of beginning teleworking from home, 4-H team members were creating and delivering interesting and educational virtual programs to either replace or enhance former face-to-face events for clientele.
“We knew we had to keep the program moving. We have an incredibly talented and committed team who quickly realized having the continuity of 4-H at the fingertips of youth, families, and volunteers could help them adjust to the new reality of staying at home,” said Dr. Kirk Bloir, Assistant Director, 4-H Youth Development.
From Zoom to Facebook Live, 4-H is now everywhere virtually. County 4-H clubs are conducting meetings, junior fair boards are gathering to make decisions, and virtual camps are being planned for summer. And at the heart of it all are the county 4-H educational programs.
“It was just instinctive to go virtual,” said Margo Long, Extension Educator for 4-H in Marion County. “A lightbulb came on for me. I knew kids were looking for things to do. This is a way to give them a sense of community and show them we can be brave in these uncertain times.”
Long led a four-week virtual coding program for youth in grades three-nine, called “Girls Who Code.” Each session involved identifying a woman in technology, watching a video, having a small group discussion, and completing an activity. The 17 members were challenged to create codes for such things as designing a new app or moving objects through space. “The silver lining is that we’re engaging new audiences, not just from Marion County, but from Ohio and the rest of the country,” she said.
Long considers the best evidence of the virtual coding program’s success to be the group’s eagerness for more sessions. Over the course of the month, she observed behavior change and progression. “It was a safe environment where the youth could eliminate social isolation.”
Further north in Ohio, Elliott Lawrence, Extension Educator for 4-H in Lucas County, felt youth under stay-at-home orders would benefit from getting away through virtual field trips. Over the past eight weeks, 325 participants have traveled with him to the International Space Station, Ford’s Theater in Washington D. C., and the Dinosaur Walk at the Melbourne Museum in Australia. The most popular event, about coral reefs, attracted 101 viewers.
Lawrence, like Longo, is visible on screen, narrating each field trip and answering questions. Although he initially only planned to provide the program a few times, its popularity has spurred him to continue indefinitely. “The trips make places seem up close and personal,” he said. “They are engaging and exciting and let the kids do something they are not used to doing.”
Virtual events will continue as part of Ohio 4-H programs, at least until in-person events are permitted. But Bloir believes some virtual programming may remain an important part of 4-H efforts. “These programs have been very successful, and it is an effective way to reach our 4-H families.”
You can find more information about many of the virtual programs offered by Ohio 4-H by following us on Facebook at Ohio State-4-H Youth Development or at ohio4h.org/families/stay-connected.