COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio 4-H is bringing agricultural science to two urban elementary schools in inner city neighborhoods. The idea is to increase students’ awareness that food and agriculture are viable career options, even in neighborhoods with little green space and limited local employment opportunities.
And students are responding.
Now entering its second full academic year, the 4-H Agri-science in the City program in Cleveland and Cincinnati is supported through special legislative funding to reach kindergarten through sixth-grade students.
Ohio 4-H is the youth development program of Ohio State University Extension, which is part of The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
During the school year, Ohio 4-H program managers Tony Staubach and Rob Isner meet students once a week, supplementing the schools’ academic program with hands-on science, technology, engineering and math activities related to food and agriculture.
At Rothenberg Preparatory Academy in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Tony Staubach worked with nearly 500 students on STEM projects between March 2014, when the program began, and May 2015.
Activities ranged from making homemade Silly Putty and hatching chicks to creating and launching rockets made from 2-liter bottles to building aquaponics systems to raise fish and growing kale on top of the tanks.
During that time, Staubach said, a survey of students found that those who believe it is possible to farm in the city increased from 54 to 74 percent, and students indicating they want to work in food or farming increased from 15 to 31 percent. In addition, by the end of last school year, 100 percent of the students said they believed farmers need STEM knowledge to be successful.
“That’s an excellent indicator of their understanding of the concept of STEM education,” Staubach said.
In Cleveland, Isner worked with nearly 600 students at George Washington Carver STEM School during the 2014-15 school year.
“When I started the program, most students said science was their least-favorite subject,” Isner said. “Now, more than half say it is their favorite.”
What’s more, when students miss school on “agri-science day” with Isner, “they want to know what they missed,” he said. “So on Fridays, I offer make-up classes. Everyone seems happy to be there, which is nice in a school setting.”
Both Isner and Staubach also offer summer programs and after-school sessions, where they’re introducing the concept of traditional 4-H clubs.
Staubach said he’s been surprised at the connections being made.
“I’m finding that many of the students are a generation or two removed from 4-H, but their grandparents or great-grandparents were members,” he said. “So when they go home and say something about 4-H or recite the 4-H pledge, their grandparents visit the school and are really excited.
“It’s helping the kids reconnect to a past that they didn’t know they had.”