4-H Youth Development

4-H Program Moves Full STEAM Ahead at West Side Elementary School

Students at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School in Charleston are helping to guide their own science-based lessons and activities with a new after-school initiative led by the West Virginia State University (WVSU) 4-H program. Extension agents are working with grades K-5 to offer STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) programs based on the needs and wants identified by students themselves.

“Our goal is to facilitate engaging experiences through hands-on activities, inquiry and dedicated mentorship,” said WVSU Extension Agent Molly Sterling. “One way we achieve that is by asking the students what they want to do with us.”

This differs from traditional approaches, in which predetermined lessons and materials are often brought into schools without input from the students being served.

“Doing what the students want to do is important to me, because that will have the greatest impact on them, give them ownership over their projects and help them see that the possibilities are endless for their futures,” Sterling said.

WVSU staff and student volunteers launched the first set of STEAM activities at Mary C. Snow’s after-school program last fall with a curriculum designed by WVSU student Ashley Current focusing on recycling and reuse, culminating in a Halloween-themed activity in October in which students made their own costumes using recycled materials.

According to school officials, the program is piquing students’ interest in science.

“Since the first meeting, I have had teachers, parents, guardians and students asking, even begging, to be accepted into the after-school program,” said Natalie Blevins, the elementary school’s family support worker and after-school program director. “Parents are telling me their children are asking not to be picked up from the program until it ends at 5:30.”

With sessions resuming this week, Sterling plans to continue developing lessons based on student feedback. Recent talks with fourth and fifth graders revealed interest in making such things as volcanoes, slime, cars, planes – even shoes.

“The shoe idea kind of threw me, but then I thought, why not?” said Sterling, who hopes to structure lessons around each of the students’ requests. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized how flexible STEAM can be.”


Hour of Code

hour-of-code-logoGot an Hour? Code Away!

In this age of technology and innovation, our daily activities have become heavily dependent upon electronic devices and machines, such as computers, smartphones, tablets, advanced automobiles, airplanes, space shuttles and so on. Without machines, we would not be able to create a better quality of life and find solutions to real-life problems. Computer programming, or coding, plays a significant role in making our day-to-day devices function. Coding make it possible for us to create computer software, mobile applications, websites, automobile interface and cyber security platforms. Coding is an excellent way to learn about critical thinking and step-by-step logical thought processing, and to teach kids about how to make their devices and machines work!

Since 2012, Hour of Code has become a global movement to promote the importance of coding among kids and adults. Well-known celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba, tech leaders Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates and Jack Dorsey, and even world leaders such as President Barack Obama have joined this spectacular initiative to create awareness regarding the exciting world of computer programming. Currently, there are 146,275 Hour of Code events across the globe.

With over 200 tutorials and lesson plans, Hour of Code provides resources for teachers to incorporate coding into their classrooms, ongoing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs, robotics clubs and much more. Available in over 45 languages and compatible with all electronic devices, Hour of Code allows anyone, including students, teachers and parents, to pick a grade level, topic, activity or language, and learn the basics of coding in a fun, interactive and easy way!

Learn more about Hour of Code and its impact here and visit Hour of Code to start coding right away!

Paper Chains: A New Twist on an Old Classic

By Tabitha Surface, Extension Agent

There aren’t many of us who haven’t made paper chains as kids whether that was to decorate a Christmas tree or classroom or count down to a very important date. This year, my family is bringing back the tradition but with a few updates, which means these decorations don’t just have to be for the holidays.

Fbook-paper-chainirst, the paper chain. Instead of using craft paper, try making the paper chain from old books. If you are doing this with your kids, see which of their books they’ve outgrown but that are also too beat up to be donated. If you don’t have books, you can always buy them on the cheap and around a theme. For instance, book stores often have comic books for a buck and thrift stores are great places to find old favorites or books of sheet music.

rags-chainThe next chain is my mother’s innovation. Using nothing but old sheets and paper towel rolls, you can have a very rustic chic chain. First, cut the paper towel rolls into 1 inch rings. Then, cut strips of fabric about ½ inch wide. Wrap one end of the fabric around the ring and tie it off. Then, continue wrapping until the ring is covered. If you run out of material, just tie another strip on. When the ring is covered, tie it off again but leave a slightly longer tail. That tail will tie to the next ring you cover. Attach as many rings as you’d like. You can opt to use similar colors and patterns or be very eclectic. Once it’s done, drape your chain around a tree or wrap it with lights and decorate a door.

The best part is that you can enjoy time with your family while you craft. Plus, these chains, unlike the popcorn you might string, can last for more than a single year. Happy holidays!

The Impact of 4-H: A True Leader Looks Back

By Brad Cochran, WVSU Extension Agent for Community and Agricultural Resource Development

Cherokee Tribal Song 2008 Putnam County 4-H CampHead, Heart, Hands, Health, and Holy Cow – This Program Changed My Life!

I pledge my head to clearer thought, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world. When I was a kid in 4-H, I would recite that pledge during each club meeting, each flag-raising ceremony at 4-H camp and during other 4-H interactions throughout the year. To be honest, I never put much thought into what those words truly meant. The older I get (maybe wiser, too?), the more I understand what Otis Hall, the state leader in Kansas, was meaning when he wrote the pledge that was adopted in 1927.

I pledge my head to clearer thought. When I went through the 4-H Charting project in 2006, I learned so much more about myself and others in my Charting group than I could have ever imagined. I learned my fears – not just that I’m scared of heights but what I truly feared in life. Granted, the specifics of what I feared then and now have changed, but I learned to recognize those fears and how to hit them head-on and push through them. I learned to care for the others in my Charting group. Whether it was giving advice on how to handle a situation, learning to clear my head and overcome a fear of heights when we did our trust fall, or just generally taking a step back and thinking each and every situation through, the 4-H Charting program, and earning my 4-H Charting pin, was one of the most impactful times of my 4-H membership.

I pledge my heart to greater loyalty. I thought I had always been a loyal person, but then I joined 4-H. I learned a great deal about loyalty through this program. Whether it was loyalty toward my tribe at 4-H camp (How How, Cherokees!), loyalty to my friends for a lifetime that I met through 4-H or just general loyalty to this youth development program, I truly learned what it meant to be loyal to something. Through 4-H, I learned that being loyal to something is more than just showing up to meetings every month or completing a 4-H project book. It was about opening up my heart to the message of 4-H and becoming a better person because of it. When you stand back and think of the four Hs, it takes all of them to become a well-rounded person. I won’t say that any one H is more important than the next, but, from my perspective, the Heart is where it all begins.

I pledge my hands to larger service. I have always been engaged in community service, and perhaps this is why I am in Extension today, doing what I love. Having the opportunity to work directly in my community and in my county truly made an impact in my life. Whether it was making Halloween treat bags to take to kids in the local hospital, litter sweeps at 4-H camp and in my community, or doing fundraisers to help kids come to 4-H camp, they all gave me a perspective into community service.

Chief Year_Putnam County 4-H Camp 2009I pledge my health to better living. In the beginning of my time as a 4-Her, this H always seemed to be the outlier. It wasn’t until a few years in that I truly realized why this H was included. Without our health, we have nothing. 4-H was developed as a way to keep young people active and engaged in the community, state and country. For me, 4-H did just that. I’ve had the opportunity to exhibit market hogs at the county fair, where I won Senior Division Showmanship three years in a row; I’ve had some of my 4-H projects move on to the state fair for judging; and I’ve attended State 4-H camps. But my favorite week of the year was that annual county 4-H camp. It was the place where I made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Whether it was running around at the “field swim meet” after the pool was closed, dancing until my legs hurt to “Amos Moses” or just having a great time with great friends, it was always the healthiest week of my summer, from physical activity to friendship-building to mental health.

To thank everyone who changed my life through 4-H would take the length of a novel, but to anyone who has ever crossed my path, from my first club meeting until I aged out of the program, or while I received my West Virginia 4-H All-Star pin, I say “Thank You!” It is because of you that I am who I am today. To sum up my experience in 4-H in just a few words would be very difficult, as this program has truly “Made the Best Better” and helped me become a True Leader.

For my best attempt at summing up my 4-H experience into just two words, here goes: HOW HOW!

4-H Grow True Leaders Campaign

By Kelli Batch, Assistant Program Director, Resilient Youth & Families

Youth are faced with many obstacles in today’s world. Luckily, there are many youth out there who are doing their part to make their communities, their world, a better place. That’s what being a member of 4-H is all about. Youth who participate in 4-H are:

  • Four times more likely to make contributions to their communities (Grades 7-12);
  • Two times more likely to be civically active (Grades 8-12);
  • Two times more likely to make healthier choices (Grade 7);
  • Two times more likely to participate in Science, Engineering and Computer Technology programs during out-of-school time (Grades 10 – 12); and
  • 4-H girls are two times  more likely (Grade 10) and nearly three times more likely (Grade 12) to take part in science programs compared to girls in other out-of-school time activities.

Through programs that focus on health, science, citizenship and mentoring, 4-H youth are given the resources and skills to grow into true leaders in their communities. So, as a community, we should do our part to encourage and recognize these dynamic youth, these “true leaders.” During the months of April through June, we at 4-H are honoring youth who are making impacts in their own lives and the lives of others through the 4-H Grow True Leaders Shout Campaign. We want to recognize the hard work and dedication of our 4-H members by giving them shout outs on social media using the hashtag #TrueLeaders. You’ll find our shout outs in places like:

Let’s show our 4-H’ers that their efforts are noticed, appreciated and impactful. Join us at 4-H as we continue to “Grow True Leaders”!


Mentoring in My Community: A Lifetime Commitment, Make a Difference Today

by Kaysha Moreno, Extension Agent

Our youth are faced daily with many challenges from school to raging hormones to peer pressure and life as a whole. “Research shows that mentees usually perform better in their program and after they get out of school, than students without mentors” (W. Brad Johnson, PhD, a psychology professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of several books about mentoring.)

Research shows that Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class.

  • Youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking.
  • Seventy-six percent of at-risk young adults who had a mentor aspire to enroll in and graduate from college versus half of at-risk young adults who had no mentor. They are also more likely to be enrolled in college.
  • Mentoring reduces “depressive symptoms” and increases “social acceptance, academic attitudes and grades.”

Finding a mentor is not always an easy task; many look to peers in their immediate surroundings, but often times they are misguided and usually tend to focus on immediate matters and short-term assignments rather than career goals and how to achieve them. I’m not saying that this is in anyway wrong, but short-term mentoring is usually due to misguided advice given to the mentors or the fact that they have a strong sense of feeling like “I am not mentor material.” So what is mentor material? Being a mentor does not mean you have to know all the answers, and it does not mean that you have to be at the pinnacle of your career. You already have more to offer than you think. Being a mentor requires attentiveness, commitment to meeting with the mentee and sticking with it. You will find that you will get just as much as you give, if not more. If you’re interested in being a mentor, keep these key points in mind:

  • Be open to sharing. Yes, you need to listen, but also be willing to share. Your ups and downs will help your mentee navigate their challenges. There is no perfectly smooth ride in anyone’s career. Be willing to share your mistakes and failures, those are great lessons for your mentee as well.
  • Be Committed. If you are helping someone, you must be committed to doing so and to putting in the time to make the relationship work, for the long term.
  • Have Integrity. You must be respected and respectable to be a good mentor. Be an honest person. It’s the way to be – even if you’re not a mentor!
  • Be engaged. Hey, you can’t be a mentor just because it “sounds” like the right thing to do. Be present in the life of your mentee. This will be a personal relationship with give and take, a lot of listening and a lot of support.

I’ve often advocated learning from successful people in your life or field. Watching how your heroes operate and dissecting how they communicate is a great learning tool and a great way for you to be a better leader yourself. Mentoring is about being transparent and revealing your best self. It’s about finding your best voice and learning what not to share and exactly what to share if you want someone to be just as successful as you, if not better. Meenoo Rami gets it perfect in “Thrive” when she describes her many mentors and how they’ve each played a distinct role in her growth as an educator. In the book, she lists:

  • The mentor who helps me see what’s possible in my practice.
  • The mentor who dares me into new work.
  • The mentor who helps me fine-tune my instruction.
  • The mentor who helps me find community.
  • The mentor who helps me see what’s possible in my writing life.
  • The mentor who helps me share my work publicly.
  • The mentor who helps me stay balanced.

These folks range from her principal, to a highly regarded author for English teachers to in-school colleagues, to her sister. That’s exactly how mentoring works in real life!

Mentoring provides meaningful and necessary connections that impact the people involved in a great way. For those who are being mentored, the impact shows in academics, socially and economically. For those doing the mentoring it can build management skills and leadership skills, it can expand your professional network, and it also provides the great feeling of empowerment by giving back to the community.

There are many ways to get involved and mentor in your community. Here at West Virginia State University Extension Service we are dedicated to the future of our communities. We have many mentoring opportunities from 4-H mentoring, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), agriculture, etc. If you are interested in being a volunteer for any of these programs, please contact WVSU Extension Service. But your options are not limited to just WVSU. Perform an online search for volunteer opportunities in your area and you will have an array of options like Americorps, Big Brothers Big Sisters, YWCA, and many, many more.

At a time of great social need for our youth, why not be that person that will inspire change and teach life lessons that will help the youth succeed in life.

Improving Literacy Rates in West Virginia

February is National Library Lovers Month, a celebration of public, private and school libraries. We’re big fans of libraries – and reading in general – here at WVSU Extension Service. In fact, we recently partnered with Read Aloud West Virginia on the creation of a cool new video that showcases the important work that Read Aloud does to improve literacy rates in the Mountain State.

In honor of National Library Lovers Month, we’re sharing the piece here on the blog. Keep your eyes peeled for some of our Extension personnel and their children in the video!

Thanks to our friends at the South Charleston Public Library and at the various schools featured in the video.

And an extra special thanks to the wonderful volunteer readers! If you’d like information on becoming a volunteer reader with Read Aloud West Virginia, check out their website and Facebook page!

Birdseed Ornaments

by Nikki Erwin, SCRATCH Coordinator
Winter is a great time to teach your kids a little something about nature. These birdseed ornaments are a fun and easy kid-friendly activity that provides a great little snack for birds during the cold months of winter!
What You Will Need
  • 2 small packets of Knox gelatin
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. birdseed
  • pipe cleaner
  • mold (we used small heart shaped silicone molds)
  1. Dissolve 2 small packets of Knox in 1/2 c. of hot water (we used water that had been heated in a coffee pot).
  2. Add 1 1/2 c. birdseed and mix until the seeds are coated. If you have a lot of excess liquid, add a little more seed.
  3. Bend pipe cleaner into a circle that fits inside the mold, leave the opposite end straight.
  4. Spoon coated birdseed into mold, filling halfway. Press the birdseed down to make sure that it is well packed.
  5. Place the bent end of the pipe cleaner into the mold on top of the coated birdseed.
  6. Fill the mold the rest of the way up, pressing down on the birdseed to make sure that it is firmly packed on top as well as on the bottom.
  7.  Leave the birdseed in the mold to dry (we left them for about two hours).
  8. Pull the straight end of the pipe cleaner around and twist it, making a circle to hang the bird seed ornament.
  9. “Pop” the birdseed out of the mold; allow the ornaments to finish drying before you try and hang them (we left them overnight, just to be sure).
 You can use twine, but pipe cleaner can be twisted around tree branches, making it easier to retrieve them and dispose of them once the birds have eaten their treats! We did this activity with Pre-K to early elementary school aged children (SCRATCH) and with teenagers (Produce Pedalers). Kids of all ages enjoyed this activity!
The SCRATCH Project will be selling these ornaments at the Winter Blues Farmers Market on Thursday, February 25, starting at 4 p.m. at the Charleston Civic Center.

Family Activities for Winter Break

By Tabitha Surface, Extension Agent

Ah, winter break – that time of year when teachers and students rejoice, and parents ask the question, “What am I going to do with these children for the next two weeks?” Here are some fun and budget-friendly activities you can do with your kids during the winter break, especially with the mild temperatures we’ve been having here in West Virginia so far this season.

Indoor Snowball Fight

It’s been a snowless December for the most part, but get into the winter spirit by having an indoor snowball fight. You can buy indoor snowballs or shower poofs, found in the health and beauty section. Or, with this overly warm weather, you can still take the “fight” outside.

Snow Sensory Activity

If you’re itching to see snow on the ground, consider making your own. Using the following ingredients, mix one wet with one or more dry ingredients. Add glitter for a snow that looks more festive.


  • Conditioner
  • Shaving Cream
  • Lotion


  • Corn Starch
  • Baking Soda
  • Shredded Paper

Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt

Enjoy the unseasonably warm weather while it is here by going on a nature walk scavenger hunt. There are great walking trails all over the region, just check your state and local parks.

Here a few fun things to look for:

  • a squirrel
  • an evergreen tree
  • something green that isn’t an evergreen tree
  • a cardinal
  • other birds

Here’s a fun idea to try: If you take the walk with socks over your shoes, the socks will collect seeds. In the spring, plant your socks and see what grows!


If you’re open to venturing a little farther than your own front yard, consider volunteering someplace as a family, like at a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, community holiday dinner, or even the animal shelter.

Have children go through toys and clothes and donate them locally. Or, join this college student and put jackets, scarves and mittens around a local city with notes that read, “I’m not lost! If you need me, please take me.” Organize an event such as a blanket and jacket handout.

Or take the time to explore your local community by going to a museum, visiting an ice skating rink, or taking a class or workshop as a family. Find local events at West Virginia Department of Commerce’s Calendar of Events.

Between at-home activities and volunteer opportunities, the are a plenty of ways to keep you and your kids busy all through the winter break.

#WVSUExtensionStories: A Mentor’s Work is Never Finished

A youth mentor is never off duty.

That’s a lesson Jameyia Richardson learned quickly when, at 20 years old, she signed up to mentor young people at WVSU Extension Service’s annual Health, Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA) Forensic Summer Institute. The weeklong, residential 4-H camp uses a crime scene investigation scenario to teach forensic science to teens.

“Kids are always watching you,” she says with a laugh. “They won’t let you get by with anything.”

Barely out of her teens herself that first summer as a mentor, the role of “role model” was one Jameyia never anticipated playing.

“I was an English major,” she says. “I knew nothing about science.” But she saw the camp as a learning opportunity not only for the students but also for herself.

“One of our tasks was to get the kids up in the morning and ready for the day’s activities, then we would have some free time,” she says. “But I went to class with them, participated and learned, too. I showed interest, which made them show interest. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Soon she discovered her behavior was having an effect. The kids were approaching her during off hours to continue discussing what they’d learned in class.

“People want to feel what they’re doing is important,” she says of her interaction with campers, “and when you get involved as a mentor, it does that for them.”

As she learned with the students, she was careful to ensure her authority as a mentor was not compromised – something quick-witted teens can often see right through.

“When you are a mentor, there is a role model barrier,” she says. “I would tell them, ‘I’m not your friend, but nobody said we can’t have some fun, because I’m a big kid, too.’”

So as she dealt with the common issues of gossip, quarrels and hygiene problems among the adolescent campers, Jameyia was also bettering herself and her own skills in people management, learning to control a group, exhibit leadership tendencies and foster a sense of inclusion among all the teens.

“There’s always that one kid in the corner who doesn’t talk a lot and doesn’t participate as much,” she says. “So I would bring him into the group during social activities, make him the center of attention, and teach these kids that they all have things in common with one another, even when they think they don’t.”

Although her early motivation for getting involved in WVSU 4-H was purely personal (“I needed the money,” she says), that first summer as a HSTA mentor stuck with her and brought her back for more. She has mentored with various 4-H camps almost every summer since.

Now 25, Jameyia is a WVSU graduate with her B.A. in English and is eyeing possibilities both within and beyond West Virginia. She is finding that being a mentor is not only a job but a way of life.

“I was at the pool and was approached by a former camper,” she says. “He saw me the same way he saw me at camp: as a role model. So I’m always sure to present myself appropriately and professionally, whether it’s at my job, at the pool or on social media.”

In fact, a sense of pride, class and professionalism is one she has attempted to instill in several of the teens she’s helped, especially girls.

“I’ll admit, girls are often worse than boys. I see them posting things on social media and ask them, ‘Is this how you want to present yourself? Is this the woman you want people to see you as?’ And they get it.”

Camp organizers were quick to realize that Jameyia also “got it.”

“She is the epitome of a true mentor,” says Kelli Batch, WVSU’s assistant director for 4-H. “I saw the potential when she first came to us, and she dove into the role whole-heartedly. Being in charge of 100 teenagers was a real life lesson that allowed her to grow up quickly. Now she’s this helpful, honest and caring professional.”

Jameyia isn’t quite finished with WVSU Extension Service. Should her career search keep her in the area, she’s hoping to return to camp next summer to not only mentor a new group of teens but also help train the next crop of youth mentors.

Because, if your mentor switch is never turned off, you may as well put it to good use.