4-H programs provide unique educational opportunities for minority, at-risk students
Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, email@example.com
Contact: Melinda Garcia, 210-631-0400, Melinda.firstname.lastname@example.org
SAN ANTONIO — Recent 4-H summer programs in Bexar County helped minority and at-risk students gain life skills and expand their horizons as they began a new school year this fall, said Dr. Melinda Garcia, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program specialist in Bexar County.
“This summer we offered a variety of summer programming, which was primarily for our 4-H club members associated with the Children, Youth and Families At-Risk, or CYFAR, program and our Juntos 4-H program in San Antonio,” Garcia said.
CYFAR grant funding provides educational opportunities through the Knights 4-H club of St. John Berchmans Catholic School, a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, Garcia said. Summer 4-H programming opportunities were also offered to students participating in Juntos 4-H, a partnership of New York Life and the National 4-H Council, implemented at the eight-grade level at Leal Middle School.
“CYFAR supports comprehensive, community-based programs requiring active participation to ensure the critical needs of children and families are met,” she said. “And Juntos 4-H, which is at Leal in the Harlandale ISD, is a chartered 4-H club that, as the name implies, brings people and resources together to provide Latino youth unique educational opportunities.”
Garcia said about 120 youth from kindergarten through eighth grade at St. John Berchmans and 60 eighth graders from Leal were involved in summer 4-H activities through their respective clubs.
The students were given opportunities to learn about science, technology, math and engineering, or STEM, subjects, Garcia said. They also learned life skills and a respect for nature while being exposed to higher education and career opportunities.
“Previously, we took students from these schools to the Texas A&M campus in College Station and the UT campus in Austin, as well as to the UTSA and Texas A&M-San Antonio campuses,” Garcia said. “This summer, we provided them additional practical experience related to college by offering a week-long Leadership Academy on the campus of Our Lady of the Lake University.”
She said the leadership program gave participants practical experiences with university life and included hands-on experiential learning in STEM subjects, such as a catapult and trebuchet build, instruction on how to measure space and horizontal distance, and creating a nebula jar.
“The students got practical exposure to a college classroom environment and an opportunity to develop their teamwork and leadership skills,” said Dr. Kirsten Komara, director of OLLU’s Academic Center for Excellence who helped coordinate the program. “They were mainly exposed to engineering, as most of the activities involved building things, and they also got a good sense of what life is like on a college campus.”
During the summer, students from both St. John Berchmans and Leal were also given the opportunity to participate in a week-long Robotics Camp at St. Mary’s University.
“This hands-on engineering summer program helped raise students’ interest in STEM areas,” said Dr. Wenbin Luo, professor of computer engineering at St. Mary’s. “Instruction included robotics, programming and operations research that helped students improve their critical thinking skills and problem-solving strategies.”
“At the robotics camp we learned how to use the computer to program our robots to move,” said Jewelianna Flores, a freshman at Harlandale High School. “It was a fun way to learn about technology.”
Flores, who said she hopes to go to medical school and become a pediatrician, said the experience furthered her interest in science.
Another summer activity was the free four-day STEM summer camp at St. John Berchmans, a collaboration with CYFAR, Juntos 4-H and 4-H Tech Wizards.
“We had a helicopter from the San Antonio Police Department, therapy animals from Canines in Education and a MobileFit unit from City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation,” Garcia said. “Students learned about math, science, nutrition, entomology, plant pathology and more.”
Tyler Hopcus, a seventh-grader at St. John Berchmans, was among the STEM camp participants.
“I liked learning about nature and how plants, animals and insects react to the environment,” Hopcus said. “It was fun and educational.”
Garcia said while 4-H programs at these schools promote STEM subjects, they also added an “A” for art so Leal Middle School students could have “STEAM” opportunities this summer. For this purpose, a three-day Film Camp, presented by San Antonio-based Screenville production company, was held at Our Lady of the Lake University.
“Students got involved in all aspects of video production, including acting and directing,” said Samuel Lerma, owner of Screenville and director of production at the Film School of San Antonio, a charter school located on the campus of Harlandale High School. “Video production also involves the use of a lot of technology, so it’s also in line with STEM subjects.”
Students from both clubs also participated in the 4-H Prime Time Camp held this summer at the Texas 4-H Center in Brownwood.
“At this camp they met other students from across Texas participating in 4-H and took part in various hands-on activities involving plenty of team building,” Garcia said. “Many of them were able to tackle new endeavors, including kayaking, rock climbing, archery, shooting and dancing.”
Garcia said this summer students at St. John Berchmans also helped at the Giving Garden constructed on school grounds by school and AgriLife Extension personnel, students and volunteers from the Bexar County Master Gardener organization.
“The students from St. John Berchmans and Leal Middle School benefitted greatly from the summer programs and we’re using that momentum as we expand these programs this fall and beyond,” Garcia said.
She said the Juntos 4-H program will add another 60 students to its ranks at Leal and will also be implemented at another middle school in Harlandale ISD. Additionally, eight afterschool sites in the Harlandale district will have 4-H chartered clubs.
Garcia said through affiliation with 4-H chartered clubs, students also will have opportunities to compete in Bexar County and District 10 4-H contests and shows.
“Through all these efforts, we are trying to find different avenues to reach out to at-risk minority teens through the 4-H program,” Garcia said. “We want to help provide these students with the knowledge, skills and resources needed so they can be successful academically and develop into good citizens who will be responsible and contribute in a positive way to their community.”