What do theater and filmmaking, ceramics, a desert tortoise habit, 3-D printing, gardening, and latch hook have in common? They are just some of the projects that students can participate in as part of the after-school club that University of Nevada, Reno Extension’s 4-H Program recently established at Ralph Cadwallader Middle School in Las Vegas. By joining their school’s 4-H club, students are finding the opportunity to be engaged when school ends and select the projects that speak to them.
Extension offers 4-H after-school programming in a variety of ways throughout the state, including at some community centers, housing sites, Title I schools and Safekey sites for elementary schoolchildren in Clark County, which are taught by Extension staff. Inspired by the model established at Valley High School, where Extension’s 4-H Program is already implementing after-school programming as part of a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, Extension 4-H decided to create a similar program at the middle school level, where they saw a need in Clark County.
“We liked the format that we were offering at Valley High School, but we wanted to reach a younger age group,” Nora Luna, Extension urban 4-H youth development coordinator, said. “So, we reached out to middle schools in the fall of 2022, and Cadwallader Middle School responded with their interest.”
Once the school expressed interest, Luna and Extension 4-H coordinator Yolys Carrera met with school leadership and teachers to introduce the 4-H Program. At its core, 4-H has eight essential elements of positive youth development that focus on belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. It also applies an experiential learning model that allows youth to “learn by doing.” Youth do, share, reflect and then apply.
“The 4-H model is different from what teachers are used to,” Carrera said. “It flips the traditional roles, and kids get to be in charge of their own learning while having fun. The ultimate goal is that they learn skills to be successful in school and life. So, while they’re making ceramics or building a tortoise habitat, they’re learning things that have to do with communication, teamwork, time management and conflict resolution.”
Together the 4-H team and the school began to explore the types of programming to offer. The school conducted an assessment that was comprised of both what students would be interested in, as well as what the teachers’ interests and skill sets are. From there, Extension 4-H worked with the school to coordinate the club and projects from start to finish. In addition to providing professional development and training teachers on 4-H, Extension provides funding for the teachers who become 4-H instructors and helps to obtain or develop curriculum necessary for each project. Extension also manages student registration and provides resources necessary for the club’s projects, as well as snacks for participating students. Carrera offers daily support for the instructors.
“The most important thing is to develop good relationships with the kids and make sure they’re doing experiential learning and that the projects are youth led,” Luna said. “We want kids to direct the projects and be sure that it’s inclusive and a safe environment where the kids feel a sense of belonging, and that the adults have a caring relationship with them, because that’s what 4-H is all about.”
Based on the school’s feedback, Luna and Carrera helped the school establish nine projects in which students could participate, which includes ceramics, creative explorations, gardening, engineering a tortoise habitat, latch hook, leadership, peer tutoring, and theater and filmmaking. Creative exploration consists of learning about art, writing, dance, knitting, bracelet making and more.
The 4-H after-school program at Cadwallader, which began its first six-week session on Jan. 17, is offered four days a week, with projects varying by day. In its first session, the club consisted of 10 4-H instructors and 120 sixth to eighth grade students.
According to Carrera, several clubs vie for the title of most popular, but one that has seen high participation and has students working hard outside is the club constructing a tortoise habitat.
“I thought it would be cool to build a legacy project of sorts for the school,” Travis Wagley, Cadwallader math teacher and 4-H instructor, said.
With the supervision of Wagley, students have gained experience reading landscape plans, cutting and drilling wood and pipes, installing irrigation, and even writing letters to request donations of materials from local businesses.
“I got to write a letter to Star Nursery and they actually brought some plants in for us,” Olivia Hageness, a sixth grader and 4-H participant, said. “And then I’ve been putting the habitat together.”
The engineering and construction of the habitat will continue in the next session of the 4-H after-school club and be completed in time for the rescue tortoise when it comes out of hibernation.
Another popular project is theater and filmmaking, where the 4-H instructor has seen students’ confidence increase since the club started.
“The 4-H theater club gives youth an opportunity to be creative and collaborate with others in a positive, safe environment,” Chrissy Scoville, Cadwallader drama teacher and 4-H instructor said. “Student’s come out of their shells and build self-esteem and confidence.”
The next session begins on March 20 and will end on May 4. It will include the same projects as the previous session, with the exception of ceramics, which will be replaced with Explorers of the Deep, a project which will include hands-on activities and ocean robots.
Extension’s 4-H Program is planning to continue at Cadwallader Middle School in the 2023-2024 school year and is making plans to add a second middle school.
“The goal is to find another middle school that wants to participate and offer 4-H programming to their students,” Luna said.
4-H, the nation's largest youth development organization, grows confident young people who are empowered for life today and prepared for careers tomorrow. 4-H programs empower 6 million young people across the U.S. through experiences that develop critical life skills. The research-backed 4-H experience grows young people who are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs.