Phillip Petway, Fort Valley State University’s Twiggs County 4-H Extension agent, is not allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent him from providing programs to youth in his service area. Like other agents in FVSU’s Cooperative Extension Program, he is adopting social distancing practices and using technology to deliver programming.
Because of his comfort level using smartphones and technology, Petway said he had no reservations making the transition to teleconferencing. “I feel at ease in using teleconferencing technology with my 4-H youth audience in Twiggs County,” Petway said
As a 4-H agent working in partnership with the Twiggs County School System, Petway said he misses working face-to-face with the teachers, school volunteers and parents. He said this is because of the hands-on and face-to-face activities associated with 4-H, including in school club meetings and after school activities.
Using Google Classroom, the FVSU 4-H agent instructed his fifth grade 4-H’ers to prepare Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) Healthy Snacks Family recipes. He also conducted a ZOOM meeting with his 4-H senior (ninth-12th grade) class members and assisted in developing a financial management informational tip sheet shared on FVSU’s College of Agriculture social media sites and several county Extension Facebook pages.
Keldric Parks, a rising junior at Twiggs County High School, participated in the remote ZOOM meeting for senior 4-H members. “Overall, it was nice to know that we could still communicate, and that was great,” Keldric said. The 16-year-old said he prefers participating in 4-H activities in person but is happy programming can continue and feels it will progress with teleconferencing technology.
Even though Petway is completing his 4-H duties remotely, several statewide and district 4-H events are cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic. “My youth client’s reaction is one of disappointment, especially since we can’t participate in face-to-face activities that we regularly do,” Petway said. Some of these include end of the year school club meetings, annual programs and summer camps.
Despite not being able to facilitate face-to-face programs or activities, the 4-H’ers still maintain a positive attitude.
“The support from Fort Valley State University and Twiggs County 4-H Programs is outstanding,” said Anala Bond, a rising junior at Twiggs County High School. “Though we have not been able to be together physically, we still communicate and meet through virtual programs such as ZOOM,” Anala said.
The 16-year-old Twiggs County student said she attended a virtual ZOOM Georgia 4-H/ Certified 4-H Teen leader training with Petway during the Coronavirus pandemic. “I was able to learn and meet new people just as I would in real life,” Anala said.
Petway said he will utilize more virtual technology like ZOOM in the future to conduct programs once the pandemic ends. When supervising specialty 4-H club meetings, he said it is a great way to reach club members with busy class schedules who participate in projects or activities like 4-H judging events.
Woodie Hughes Jr., FVSU’s assistant Extension administrator state 4-H program leader, stresses the need for staying connected to young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is of great importance to our youth, and their social-emotional well-being, that 4-H continue to provide the opportunity and the process of strengthening pre-existing 4-H family relationships while simultaneously building new ones,” Hughes said.
He said that FVSU’s 4-H Program is perfecting the process of reaching more youth in a safe space during the pandemic. Hughes also said that by learning to work with youth remotely, it will increase the footprint of FVSU’s 4-H Program.
“FVSU and other 4-H Programs were already working in some remote capacity prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hughes said. The FVSU administrator said this allows the 4-H Youth Development Program to provide positive programming to youth under various circumstances.