When Astrid Sandoval Martinez started her job as 4-H local educator in Scott County, she did not expect to be running a 4-H club online.
Martinez started her job in November. Her first goal was to start a new bilingual Spanish-English 4-H club in Scott County. Her target audience was young people in the county whose families were new to 4-H and spoke both languages.
By February, she had recruited six members and one adult volunteer. The Explorations 4-H Club had had one face-to-face meeting before COVID-19-related school closures hit in March. Martinez adapted to the situation. She asked the members if they would like to meet online and the response was good.
Martinez noticed some benefits to meeting online. Youth who had suddenly lost daily contact with friends and teachers had one hour each week of continued friendship and hands-on activity. "We all enjoy it," Martinez said. "These kids were used to seeing each other every day and now they're doing something together without being together. I think they like that and I enjoy that they want to participate."
Like all 4-H clubs, the newly renamed Virtual Explorations 4-H Club do projects together. Each of the nine members in grades four and up takes turns leading the group. Each leader picks a craft project that they all can do. They work with Martinez to figure out what materials each will need and how they will all work together. They demonstrate the activity so others can learn it.
Online clubs have some advantages over face-to-face meetings. In normal times, parents sometimes struggle to get their children to after-school programs. But in a lockdown, families are home together. Transportation is no longer an option -- or a barrier.
Another benefit: Shy youth can tiptoe into doing demonstrations. One member of the Explorations 4-H Club volunteered to lead a meeting as long as she didn't have to show her face on camera. No problem, Martinez told her. You can just show your hands.
Parents can now experience 4-H, too. One parent who helped her child make a craft project enjoyed it so much she volunteered to be one of the club's leaders.
Since going online the club has grown from six to nine. All club members have signed up to lead weekly one-hour meetings, and so, Astrid says, that will be the club format going forward. "They all want to do it," Martinez said.
Shifting to the online format has not been trouble-free. The virtual club's first project was to make a pinata from household materials -- things like used cereal boxes, gift wrap and cornstarch. One member found no cornstarch in the pantry, so another member proposed a solution, using Maizena, a corn-based sweet drink. No problem, Martinez told her.
"That was a good solution," Martinez said. "And it shows that they're thinking."
Martinez also noticed that although club members and their parents move smoothly from Spanish to English and back again, Zoom captioning doesn't.
Future meeting topics will be melted crayon art and planning us underway for camping, which may include living room tents connected by video camera and microwave smores. "We don't really know how it will work yet,”Martinez said, “but it'll be a celebration."
Learn more about 4-H clubs.