SUMITON – Members of the Sumiton Middle School 4-H Club met for the first time this school year on Thursday in the school's library.
This after-school program has veterans, along with some first-timers who want to get their hands on some of the projects offered by the organization.
The 4-H program in Walker County provides various "hands-on, minds-on" activities in non-formal educational settings to meet the needs and interests of youth ages 5-19.
Rebecca Persons, who is the 4-H Foundation regional extension agent, visited Sumiton Middle School for the first session to discuss potential projects for the coming year.
Club members began meeting after school two years ago and meet monthly during the school year.
"It's a tightly knit group of children with common interests that are highly motivated," Persons said.
The students in 4-H are involved with various projects ranging from photography to raising chickens.
Jordan Phillips of Empire selected the Chick Chain as his project. He received 18 baby chicks this past May. The little two-day-old chicks looked like tiny powder puffs in his hand, according to Jordan.
Jordan kept his chicks in a plastic tub at the foot of his bed. He was responsible for feeding them, keeping them safe, keeping them warm, and watching them grow.
Jordan's mother Samantha and a relative rebuilt an old pen, complete with a chicken house, a roost, laying boxes, and feeders. They covered the top of the pen with plastic mesh to keep owls and hawks from swooping down and hauling off the chickens, according to Jordan.
He fed, watered, the chickens daily. He was also responsible for cleaning out the pen and spreading fresh cedar chips on the floor.
During the summer, a member of the Walker County Extension Service went out to visit with the children and the chickens. During the visit, the agent vaccinated the young chickens and gave the student valuable insight on how to raise healthy birds.
Today, Jordan and the other Sumiton 4-H club members who chose the Chick Chain project will take three of their chickens to a show which is a competition.
"What I like to tell people is that 4-H started over a hundred years ago because most people lived on farms, grew their food, built their own homes, and made their own clothes," she said. "4-H projects focused on those skills." Those are still good skills, but the organization has added other skills, according to Persons.
Students can get involved in science-related projects. Last year Persons did a program where 4-H members focused on the acronym STEAM. "Students did activities related to Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math," she said.
Project areas include sensory sampling, careers in food science, building rockets, robots, simple machines, and exploring electricity with snap circuits, according to Persons.
Some of the groups in the county focus on very special interests. "Bankhead Middle School and Cordova High School are working with Amber Parsons who is a teacher there, and they are doing water quality monitoring," Persons said.
The group goes down to Cane Creek, which is near the school, and take samples of water. They report their data to the Alabama Water Watch office. "We've had a lot of interest since the big spill," she said. Several other teachers are interested in learning to do this and would like to have their students certified to monitor as well, according to Persons.
On the county level, 4-H'ers compete in baked foods, public speaking, demonstrations, photography, wood science, Freestyle exhibits and demonstrations, extreme birdhouses, and Lego-building. Walker County is well represented at the Regional Congress, held in June.
A special partnership with Tractor Supply Company has allowed us to provide additional program supplies and scholarships for summer camp and leadership programs, according to Persons.
Sumiton Club member Olivia Stephens also serves on the 4-H Youth Council. In addition to monthly 4-H members, the Youth Council meets two or three times throughout the year to do community service projects.
Another member built a birdhouse and entered it into the regional 4-H competition. Another one did a photography project and participated in the $15 challenge completion. This is where students can spend no more than $15 for an outfit. They visit thrift stores and yard sales to buy items for their wardrobe. "They create outfits and then model it, and tell the judges about it," Parsons said.
Persons, who has been doing this work for over 20 years, said one of her goals is to work in every school community. She attained that goal when she added Sumiton Middle, Valley, and Carbon Hill.
The idea is that no matter what the students are interested in, they should have an opportunity to explore different areas, according to Persons. This sometimes gives students a glimpse of future career possibilities. One of the students involved with 4-H several years ago did the Chick Chain project. As a result of that involvement, she made the decision to go into poultry science at Auburn. "The Chick Chain project opened up a new world to her," Persons said.
"I want to expose children to lots of different things that might open up new worlds," she said.