School Enrichment Program
If you want to know how effective the 4-H School Enrichment Program (SEP) is, just ask public school teachers who have incorporated it into their science curricula. They’ll tell you that the SEP delivers.
The program — one in which 4-H and local schools team up to offer classroom enrichment programs that link a university-based curriculum and experiential learning in a variety of topics to K-12 students — continues to show success in numbers.
“In 1998, 47 percent of the teachers said their students improved academically after the experience. In 2002, it was 84.5 percent,” says Dr. Ed Maxa, Department Extension Leader and associate professor of 4-H and Youth Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
That’s just for starters among the positive reports.
“In homework completed there was a 51 percent improvement reported in 1998; 82 percent in 2002,” Maxa says, adding that quality of homework improvement was reported by 49 percent in 1998 and 77 percent in 2002.
And reports of science grades improving after the school enrichment experience increased from 54 percent in 1998 to 93 percent in 2002.
“I’d have to say school enrichment does have an impact,” says Maxa. “And it’s why we want to help other folks develop — or deliver what they have already developed — through this mode.”
Essentially, Maxa wants to take the School Enrichment Program model of taking science and other disciplines to the classroom and expand it across College and university departments.
4-H School Enrichment works like this: Under Maxa’s direction, university specialists in topic areas develop curricula specifically for use in schools and in keeping with the standard course of study for each grade level, currently grades 2-7, as specified by the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Teachers receive training from their county agents or other 4-H staff and then deliver the program to their students, with each topic requiring at least six hours of instruction.
“We think it’s important to help the teachers do the job they have to do,” Maxa says. “The agent helps facilitate the process by training the teacher in the use of the curriculum, materials and experiential learning process.”
Some of the most popular topics are Embryology I, wherein second-graders hatch their own brood of chicks, and Embryology II, a version designed for seventh-graders; Down to Earth, an experiential hands-on gardening program for sixth-graders; and Energy Links, where fifth-graders learn the importance of energy, its use and conservation and alternative sources.
“Each teacher brings his or her expertise,” says Maxa. “We’re bringing a curriculum, and we’re bringing training that’s done either at the schools or at the county extension centers.”
Before the agents train the teachers, however, they themselves must be trained. This can take place at county centers or, Maxa says, “in many cases we tape training sessions for agents, and they can purchase tapes through the College’s Department of Communication Services.” In the taped training sessions, Maxa and the appropriate subject matter specialist guide agents through the specified goals of the enrichment experience, the DPI standards and present a detailed explanation of activity procedures.
Once the agents are trained in a particular school enrichment curriculum, they can offer it to teachers in their counties. A standard procedure is for the agent to contact the superintendent of schools for approval and then to follow that superintendent’s lead to the next point of contact, either a school principal, science coordinator or teacher.
“We always start with a superintendent, and he or she directs us where to go. Then sometimes a letter is sent to the next contact, or, with permission, the 4-H agent puts subject-matter and grade-level-specific bookmarks in teachers’ mail slots.”
When the teachers respond, “the 4-H agent then sets up training, hopefully of all the ones in that county that want to be trained,” he says.
The agent may visit a classroom session to help facilitate an activity and to tell the students about opportunities that are available to them through 4-H.
Aside from that visit, it is the teacher who directs the children in the activities designed to achieve experiential learning. Children are guided to acquire, analyze and use information and to develop and exercise problem-solving and decision-making skills.
The curriculum materials — including the facilitator manuals for agents and teacher manuals, booklets and activity outlines — are produced by subject matter specialists and writers enlisted by Maxa, or they are purchased from other states. “We have a cooperative curriculum system, an entity of 44 states. This came about because we decided it’s more efficient to produce one book of a particular subject that everyone can use,” Maxa says.
Certain materials from the 4-H youth development curricula, created for use by 4-H’ers, can also be adapted for use in the school enrichment program, he says.
In most cases the counties purchase the materials from Communication Services; they then have the autonomy to give or sell the curricula to teachers who use the program.
The curricula for use in school enrichment are initiated or reviewed twice a year when Maxa meets with the 4-H curriculum committee, which comprises teachers, volunteers, agents and specialists. “We’re always looking at the quality of the curricula and how to make that better,” he says. “And we keep up with changes that occur in the Standard Course of Study.”
Just how far-reaching is the SEP?
“In 1987 we had 60,000 kids. Now about 95,000 participate in the 4-H school enrichment program,” says Maxa. “School enrichment adds another way we can help teachers and expose kids to 4-H,” he says. “We hope to triple our school enrichment outreach to 300,000 students.”
One component of that growth, he says, will be taking the curricula and contact procedures from a print-based to Web-based environment.
And Maxa also stands ready to adapt the program for use beyond his department.
“We feel the 4-H program is uniquely positioned to work with departments within and beyond CALS to take research to the classroom. We’re in every county and have strong relationships with the schools, so we have the infrastructure.”
Already, he says, partnerships are being explored with three other colleges at N.C. State.
“We’re ready,” Maxa says. “We’ll work with other
departments for subject matter and with current faculty, alumni or
retired faculty for dissemination and training.”