Ohio 4-H Reaching More Youth with Tech Wizards Program

Tech Wizards in Adams County, January 2016

Editor: March 6-12, 2016, is Ohio 4-H Week.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Paths to success aren’t always smooth. Some young people face greater obstacles than others, and that’s where a good mentor can make all the difference.

Tech Wizards, offered by Ohio 4-H to up to 240 youths this year, is an after-school and summer program made possible with funding from the National 4-H Council and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Once a week for a year, mentors gather with students to work on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects.

“We do STEM projects, but the focus is really on mentoring,” said Mark Light, Ohio 4-H youth development educator in Hardin County who is one of the program’s coordinators. Ohio 4-H is the youth development program of Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“We have a 4-to-1 ratio of students to mentors, and mentors are assigned to specific youths, so they really develop a connection,” he said.

Teachers or principals at participating elementary and high schools recommend students for Tech Wizards. The program is designed to help students who face challenges such as family issues, academic difficulties, economic pressures or living in a marginalized area.

The idea is to help them develop self-confidence as well as important life and workplace skills, Light said. More than 800 Ohio students have participated in the program since it started in Ohio in 2011.

“We do different programming every three or four weeks,” Light said. “In the past, we’ve done LEGO robotics, and some coding and programming so they can develop their own animation or video game. We’ve done some videography, where they learn how to make movies.

“And this year, several counties are focusing on health using special sports equipment with Bluetooth technology. There’s a soccer ball that will tell you how fast you kicked it, what angle you kicked it, and there are other sports and fitness-related items. We can take the statistics when they’re playing after school and show them how we can use technology to help them improve their skills.”

Other projects involve topics such as aerospace rocketry and alternative energy, said Carolyn Belczyk, 4-H educator in Adams County who coordinates the program with Light.

“There’s just an endless supply of things we can do with them, to challenge them to problem-solve,” she said. “Regardless of the activity, they’re always working with three or four other kids, becoming skilled in working in teams and communicating with each other. That group work is really critical to the success of the program.”

One of the teachers involved in Tech Wizards since its inception is Patty Cribley, a fourth-grade teacher at Kenton Elementary School in Hardin County.

“It truly makes a difference,” Cribley said. “Some of the kids don’t have two parents who are involved in their lives. They develop relationships with mentors. The kids want to see them and talk to them, and their opinions really matter. The students don’t want to let their mentors down.”

And what’s more, students enjoy being Tech Wizards.

“The program is entirely voluntary, but the kids keep coming back week after week,” Belczyk said. “You can see very clearly that they’re developing teamwork and problem-solving skills, and that there’s pride every week when they accomplish a goal or finish a project.”

Tech Wizards is similar to a traditional 4-H program in that groups of young people meet together on a regular basis, working under the direction of caring adults, Belczyk said. They also do community service projects, a staple of 4-H programs.

“On the other hand, the Tech Wizards in Adams County, at least, don’t elect officers, don’t have business meetings and don’t work on individual 4-H projects,” she said. “Still, they’re sometimes surprised to discover that by being in this program, they actually are already part of Ohio 4-H.”

Cribley said Tech Wizards is a perfect supplement to schoolwork.

“It’s a very positive program that helps kids at this young age to learn and grow — more so than what we can do in the classroom,” she said.

Tech Wizards is currently offered at certain schools in Adams, Jackson, Lawrence and Scioto counties in southern Ohio; Allen, Hardin and Putnam counties in northwestern Ohio; Lorain County in northern Ohio; and Columbiana County in eastern Ohio.  

For more about Ohio 4-H, see ohio4h.org.




CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Mark Light

Carolyn Belczyk

Patty Cribley