4-H Matters, July 2023
It is with pleasure that I’m writing my first 4-H director’s column for the “4-H Matters” newsletter. Since I began my position as director on Feb. 6, I have traveled to many parts of the state, and I can say that every area is beautiful. Idahoans are very pleasant, kind people and I’m thrilled to be here. Summer has been especially beautiful because of the weather — let me tell you, low humidity is a plus.
One of the highlights of my summer was the Idaho 4-H State Teen Association Convention (STAC), which is a summer tradition in which 4-H members, staff, faculty and volunteers converge on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow to partake in workshops, leadership seminars, tours and service-learning projects. This year, I had the pleasure of observing STAC delegates on campus during the week of June 26-29. Special thanks to the steering committee for their hard work on making sure things ran smoothly — I showed up the day before the delegates arrived, and the steering committee was already hard at work prepping for the event by making stage backdrops, table decorations, making sure the facilities were up ready for classes and workshops and getting supplies for each step prepared. The behind-the-scenes work is what makes an event successful and takes a lot of forethought. Witnessing them pitching in together and finding solutions and compromises is part of the 4-H process. The end result of a 4-H project or event is important, but the process is where the learning takes place. That is why I love my job — even when it’s not easy — because witnessing this process over and over again is proof that it works and that youth across Idaho, the U.S. and even the world are benefiting from 4-H. As I continue to work my way across the state to county offices, fairs and other 4-H events, I look forward to witnessing the 4-H process unfold and meeting the people who ultimately make this process successful. County educators and coordinators, 4-H volunteers, 4-H members and all of our partners throughout the state truly are making a difference in Idaho with both short-term and long-term impacts.
UI Extension 4-H Youth Development
Shooting for Olympics
Thanks to the University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development program, Elijah Spencer has her sights set on representing the U.S. in shooting sports at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Spencer, who graduated this spring from Timberline High School in Boise, recently headed to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she’ll be paid to train in target shooting during a six-week summer residency.
Spencer, who was introduced to shooting through 4-H in 2017, is a current member of the U.S. ranked shooting team, making her eligible to participate in world cups and other international matches. She also isn’t conceding the possibility of making the U.S. Olympic team for the 2024 games in Paris, though she admits that’s a long-shot.
Spencer is convinced she developed the grit to excel among elite company through 4-H.
“You commit your whole life when you decide to be an Olympic athlete. 4-H has taught me a lot of the necessary skills, like discipline and respect for those who have done it before you,” Spencer said. “With 4-H that’s literally the motto: Make the best better.”
Spencer recently claimed the repeat title of Idaho champion during the state 4-H shooting competition. She was equally happy about the success her teammates enjoyed at the event, however, having helped to coach them throughout the past year. Teammate Lindsay Baker took fourth place overall in the senior category and qualified for 4-H nationals — Spencer isn’t eligible since she competed in nationals last year. Teammate Brianna Poirier took first place in each discipline in the intermediate category. Teammate Ehylla Walker won first overall in the junior category.
In the summer of 2022, Spencer beat out 300 shooters to be named small-bore champion at the 4-H Shooting Sports National Championship, hosted in Grand Island, Nebraska.
She was also the only competitor in the 18-and-under age group to make the finals in both the air gun and small-bore rifle events during the USA Shooting Junior Olympic Rifle National Championship, hosted in May at Hillsdale College in Michigan.
“I have a huge support system through 4-H,” said Spencer, who is part of Ada County 4-H. “Their local leaders helped me find a place to practice and keep practicing. They have played a huge role in how I’ve gotten to where I am in 4-H and in shooting.”
Spencer has been involved in 4-H for more than a decade. Initially her focus was on family and consumer sciences activities, such as sewing, cooking and baking. Upon joining the Ada County 4-H club about six years ago, however, she had the opportunity to try target shooting, practicing with an air gun — which is essentially a stronger version of a pellet gun — during the initial year.
Spencer had never held a firearm prior to her first day of shooting, and she couldn’t hit any of the milk jugs set up as her targets at first. However, she enjoyed the activity and decided to stick with it. 4-H Shooting Sports, open to youth ages 8 to 18, teaches roughly 500,000 participants each year about the fundamentals of marksmanship, the safe and responsible use of firearms, the principles of hunting and conservation ethics.
Spencer insists she achieved her goals through hard work rather than innate talent. Her 4-H leaders, Tim and Pat Oren, were both experienced shooting instructors who encouraged her to practice relentlessly. Tim Oren is a USA Shooting certified coach.
“The biggest thing they taught me was to keep going and keep working at it. Shooting is not the easiest sport in the world. It takes time,” Spencer said. “They always believed I could do it, even though I wasn’t the most naturally gifted at the sport.”
To supplement her weekly 4-H practices, Spencer set up an air gun target range inside of her home, where she shoots daily. By her second year, she was also shooting small-bore rifles through 4-H. In 2019, she also began shooting with the Meridian Optimist Junior Rifle Club.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Spencer began to take her hobby more seriously, aiming to earn a college scholarship. She hired Jamie Lynn Corkish, an American sport shooter who won a gold medal during the 2012 Summer Olympics, as her personal coach.
Spencer qualified for her first Junior Olympics in 2021 and failed to break into the top 100. At the 4-H championships a few months later, however, she finished among the top 10 individuals.
During 2022, she enjoyed far greater success. She won the Idaho 4-H Small-bore Championships at the Jerome County Gun Club before claiming the title as national 4-H small-bore champion, and then finishing top in her age group in the Junior Olympics.
Spencer’s keen aim has earned her a college scholarship to compete on one of the nation’s top shooting sports programs at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. After college, Spencer plans to serve as a 4-H shooting sports coach.
“Working hard in the end is always going to win out in shooting. You see it time after time: Keep going and keep practicing,” Spencer said.
Located in northern Idaho’s Schitsu’umsh (Coeur d’Alene) Reservation, Lakeside Junior-Senior High School has the state’s highest rate of chronic absenteeism.
A national program offered in Idaho through University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development, which recently concluded its pilot year with the reservation, aims to change that narrative. Lakeside is the nation’s first Native American school to implement Juntos, which means “together” in Spanish.
Through Juntos, students are finding new reasons to engage in the classroom. Shaina Nomee, who runs the reservation-based program on behalf of UI Extension, is optimistic participants will begin setting bolder goals for themselves. Juntos provides resources and support to under-served youth in grades eight through 12, helping them graduate from high school and access post-secondary education.
“We hope with engaging programs like Juntos, students will start showing up for school. Up to a quarter of Lakeside students may be absent on any given day,” Nomee said. “We want to do our best as Extension to provide curriculum that encourages them to come to school and to pursue higher education, technical school and college and have students be successful after high school.”
UI Extension pioneered Juntos — an after-school program in most other participating states — as an elective course conducted during school hours. The program is made possible by partnerships involving Extension educators, school and college administrators and staff and community volunteers. Juntos instruction covers personal finance, basic cooking, nutrition, food safety, home ownership, resume writing, job interviewing and other life skills.
Lakeside’s principal made Juntos a requirement for eighth- graders. The program will grow to also include high school freshmen next year and will be available to grades eight through 12 by the fourth year.
“A few students had a rough start in the beginning but really grew their skillset and classroom leadership and made strides,” Nomee said.
Nomee’s students have expressed strong interest in agriculture, gardening, cooking, healthy living and the arts. Catering to some of those interests, she’s partnered with Gizmo-CdA, which is a nonprofit makerspace in Coeur d’Alene, offering mentors and tools to help students further their knowledge of art, design and technology. Gizmo sends mentors to facilitate creative lessons at the school on a weekly basis. Students are also provided transportation for weekly in-depth after-school activities, such as glass-blowing and welding, at the Gizmo facility.
On Wednesdays, tutors help Nomee’s Juntos students get caught up on their coursework. Thursdays are devoted to learning 4-H curriculum. One of Nomee’s students is considering a career in law based on 4-H Know Your Government content. Nomee brought in guest presenters — including the head tribal judge, Tribal Council members and Coeur d’Alene city officials — to educate Juntos students about local government.
Nomee’s goal for the program is a 100% graduation rate, a 90% attendance rate and a minimum 2.5 GPA. She considers it a realistic target and will reward any class that meets the academic performance and attendance goals with a field trip. Her first Juntos class fell just short of the bar, achieving an 86% attendance rate and a 2.1 GPA.
Next school year, she also plans to launch a community service program involving Juntos participants with minimum 3.5 GPAs.
“Hopefully we’ll start seeing results with success from our students in the next couple of years,” Nomee said.
The tribal Juntos program is supported by a five-year joint grant with Washington State University, running through 2025, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Children, Youth and Families at Risk program.
Canyon County Juntos Takes the Cake
Canyon County Juntos program coordinator Elizabeth Albor wasn’t too surprised when cake decorating surfaced as one of the most popular topics of an assessment she administered to her youth at Nampa High School.
Cake decorating and photography were among the topics taught during in-school Juntos mentoring periods to help youth express themselves artistically through different mediums.
This summer, Albor will recruit local STEM-related business leaders to present to her Juntos program, which serves some of the Latinx youth who comprise 32% of the school’s student body. She also plans to find a good Latinx-owned bakery to host a cake-decorating field trip.
Nampa’s program, which began serving students in grades nine through 12 in December 2022, had 28 students who participated in mentoring periods and 10 regular participants. Albor’s goal is to triple her regular participants. The Nampa program is supported by the same grant as the reservation’s program.
“Our goal is to find a way to make the program sustainable, even if that means looking for additional funding,” said Sendy Martinez, a 4-H Extension educator serving Ada and Canyon counties.
Next fall, they’ll introduce Juntos to two additional Canyon County high schools — Columbia High School and Skyview High School. Albor anticipates offering a single Juntos class to serve all three schools. They hope to launch a program in a local middle school by the second semester of the upcoming school year.
A Remarkable Achievement
UI Extension Educator Gretchen Manker set a lofty goal of a 100% graduation rate for her Jerome County Juntos program.
During the recent Jerome High School graduation, all but one of her program’s 15 seniors received a diploma — good for a 93% graduation rate and well above the school’s general Latinx graduation rate. Her Juntos grant, funded through a subaward of a USDA NIFA grant to North Carolina State University, will end in August.
“I was so impressed. I’ve known these kids since eighth grade, and they have come together and finished up,” Manker said.
Community service is a core component of 4-H, and Manker’s Juntos students are active in service projects. For one project, Juntos students hosted a “color run” for children, during which runners were soaked with squirt gun fire and had colorful powders thrown on them.
One Juntos senior, Wendy Montano, earned so many advanced credits that she graduated simultaneously with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree through the College of Southern Idaho.
“Her mom has told me so many times that without Juntos they would have just considered high school graduation it,” Manker said.
The $640,000 U of I obtained through the USDA NIFA grant awarded to North Carolina State was issued under award No. 2018-41520-28749. USDA NIFA issued the funding for the U of I-led Juntos project with Washington State under award No. 2021-41520-35353.
University of Idaho Extension Educator Nikki Ennis, Bannock County, is thinking big when it comes to getting local youth excited about gardening.
Ennis and Extension staff members are hosting their first giant pumpkin growing contest this summer for UI Extension 4-H Youth Development participants. They’ve ordered seeds rated to grow pumpkins ranging from 50 to 300 pounds. Participants in the competition each received a seedling raised from a giant pumpkin seed. The youth have been posting photographs documenting their progress on the UI Extension Bannock County 4H Facebook page, and prizes for the largest pumpkins will be awarded in August, following a weigh-in at the Bannock County Fair in Downey.
“They’re going to learn how to grow a plant and how to take care of it, and there’s a lot of information on how to set up a plant so it can grow the best,” Ennis said. “I think it will be a good learning experience that will teach some responsibility keeping their plant alive.”
In addition to raising an oversized gourd, participants will create a poster illustrating the steps involved in their project. They’ll also write a paragraph about the parts of a seed.
Youth were given a pamphlet about raising giant pumpkins, and UI Extension have offered training, teaching several tips for growing champion giant pumpkins. For example, using a bedsheet or tarp to provide partial shade helps with growth, and placing a pumpkin on a firm and dry platform, such as a sand-covered board, helps growers avoid rot.
Though this is Bannock County’s first year of having a giant pumpkin growing contest, Franklin County has had one since 2019. During the first year, the winning pumpkin in Franklin County weighed in at 529 pounds. The county’s winner was 593 pounds in 2020, and the top pumpkin was 612 pounds in 2021.
Franklin County staff also helped Oneida County start a giant pumpkin contest in 2021. Weather conditions weren’t conducive to growing large pumpkins in 2022, and UI Extension educator in Franklin County, Bracken Henderson, isn’t hosting a 2023 contest due to the likelihood of a short growing season.
UI Extension in Franklin County partnered with Intermountain Farmers Association (IFA) to help with the weigh-ins.
Henderson has found giant pumpkins struggle to set female blossoms in southeast Idaho’s soils, which he attributes to a manganese deficiency. He’s found that spraying micronutrients onto foliage helps with the problem.
“Growing a giant pumpkin isn’t easy,” Henderson said.
Following the weigh-in during the contest’s initial year, a Utah radio station bought the giant pumpkins, which were filled with numbered balls and dropped from a crane. After the pumpkins splattered, spectators gathered the balls and matched winning numbers to claim prizes.
In subsequent years, Franklin County’s giant pumpkins were displayed either outside of the UI Extension office or in front of IFA.
A new University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development program takes precision agriculture to new heights with robots designed, built and programmed by child engineers.
Even the sky isn’t the limit for the young engineers who will compete in the forthcoming AgRobotics program. One AgRobotics scenario, called Lunar Base Harvest, entails delivering farming inputs and testing soils with remote-controlled robots on the surface of the moon.
Program organizers Matt Fisher, a UI Extension educator specializing in agriculture and STEM, and Robin Baumgartner, 4-H science programs coordinator, are recruiting Idaho counties interested in participating. About 20 Idaho counties received LEGO robotics kits last year with federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, and the new AgRobotics program could provide counties a good use for those kits. Additional ARPA funding is currently available for counties that would like kits to start or expand upon a LEGO robotics program.
AgRobotics aims to teach children STEM skills while also demonstrating the important roles science and technology play in food production.
“We thought this would be great for Idaho because Idaho it's so agriculture based,” Fisher said. “This would be a way to get those kids who don’t normally show animals or go the traditional route to learn about agriculture, too.”
UI Extension often field requests to teach the fundamentals of LEGO robotics at community day camps, events and after-school programs. Idaho's 4-H youth have also participated in the FIRST LEGO League robotics challenge. AgRobotics, however, is Idaho’s first robotics program sponsored and branded by Extension.
AgRobotics was created by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Baumgartner and Teresa Balderrama, an associate Extension educator specializing in 4-H youth development in Kootenai County, discovered the program when Texas 4-H staff presented it at a professional conference. They liked the Texas program as an option to involve Idaho youth in a competition that would be less intensive and time demanding than FIRST LEGO League.
“We wanted to bring additional robotics opportunities to the state,” Baumgartner said. “We were both like, ‘Ok, this is what we’ve been looking for.’”
Initially, the program will be offered on a pilot basis, with counties coming up with their own practice schedules and hosting their own competitions for teams of up to four participants. Eventually, the program could grow to pit counties against each other in state or regional competitions.
Teams will build their own robots, using LEGO Education SPIKE kits. Some robots may resemble a tractor or other actual farm machines, while others may be more unique — with automated implements on both ends, for example. Team members will design and program their robots to perform specified tasks, such as docking, delivering farming modules and placing fertilizer inside of modules. Teams will be awarded points based on how well their robots perform and how many tasks they complete within a specified timeframe. More complicated tasks receive more points. Tasks are performed on mats with different themes, such as farming on the moon.
AgRobotics also contributes to positive youth development, part of the 4-H Thriving Model. Each team decides which tasks are most important, working collaboratively to ensure success. Teams must also be prepared to make the necessary modifications to their robots during competitions to complete certain surprise challenges.
“One of the things I love about this is it’s all about the kids’ imagination,” Baumgartner said.
The following counties are upgrading their LEGO kits and have expressed interest in AgRobotics: Bannock, Benewah, Butte, Camas, Cassia, Franklin, Gem, Boise, Jefferson, Latah, Lewis, Lincoln, Power and Washington. UI Extension also plans to offer the new program at a Kootenai County STEM camp in July and at a conference planned for October. For more information, contact Matt Fisher at 208-736-3627.
2023-24 State 4-H Teen Officers
Congratulations to our newly elected 2024 Idaho 4-H State Teen Association officer team. They will spend the next year advocating for 4-H members and volunteers. Please be on the lookout for them at upcoming 4-H events and meetings. Pictured from left to right are: Ainsley Erwin, communications director from Owyhee County; Shawnee Ortega, activities director from Payette County; Elisa Aiken, president from Nez Perce County; Kyra Fowler, secretary from Minidoka County; and Elizabeth Wisniewski, vice president from Gooding County.
- July 22-Aug. 17 — Idaho States’ 4-H Summer Exchange, looking for host siblings ages 11-17
- Aug. 15 deadline — Apply to host an AmeriCorps member from October 2023 through August 2024
- July 18-Aug. 1 — U and I Together Series, online
- Sept. 9 — 2023 State 4-H Livestock Judging Contest, registration due by Aug. 23
4-H in the News (recent popular press articles)
- 4-H Star: She juggles 4-H, a job and school, Intermountain Farm and Ranch
- 4-H Camp: 4-H horse camp’s half-century birthday party, Intermountain Farm and Ranch
- 4-H hunter discipline shooter qualifies for nationals, KIFI Local News 8
- What is 4-H? Youth program with agricultural roots growing its offerings, expanding access in Boise area, Idaho Press