The Louisiana State University Agricultural Center is a hidden educational gem in my community. The support that the extension agents offer the kids in our schools is truly incredible. They teach the kids about everything from plants and nutrition to shooting skills. They provide kids with the chance to attend summer camp – something that would not happen for many of our kids without the support and assistance of the LSU AgCenter/4-H.
The 4-H clubs are open to all the kids and provide an amazing number of leadership and learning opportunities. The extension agents in our parish are very open to parent input and will happily plan activities that include parents and other community members. My daughter Ella was vice-president of her club in the fourth and fifth grade. This provided her with the chance to speak on a regular basis in front of a large group of her peers and really developed her self-confidence.
When Ella was in the fourth grade her group volunteered to do a project in honor of Ella’s little brother Billy. Billy has a rare health condition and for rare disease day (the last day of February each year), Ella’s 4-H group made hundreds of blue jean ribbons (jeans for genes) to help raise awareness and support for kids living with rare conditions. The kids also listened to a researcher from New Orleans, herself a 4-H alum, share her experiences in 4-H as a kid and how these experiences influenced her decision to pursue a career in science.
The other thing that these folks do that really makes my heart smile is that they make every effort, above and beyond, to include my son Billy in 4-H activities. He sometimes uses a wheelchair because of his health condition – our extension agents always make sure he is included in projects in a meaningful way by tweaking and modifying things to make them accessible to him. They recently offered, no prompting by me, to make sure that the school garden projects are accessible just for him. How awesome is that?
Sometimes it seems that our political leaders don’t appreciate the value of programs like these – they often end up on the chopping block when budgets are being trimmed. This is a short-sighted and unfortunate view because I have seen firsthand how these programs provide enriching learning opportunities – get your hands dirty, laugh and smile learning activities – that many of the kids in our community with limited resources would never have otherwise. I believe in my heart and see with my own eyes that the extension agents in my parish are excellent stewards of the public funds they receive and very mindful of how to best use funds to serve all the kids in our rural community.
2011 Louisiana delegate Catherine Calhoun has made it her mission to fight for better schools in her state. She is a committed volunteer and the mother to two children.