T he slogan of 4-H is “to learn by doing.” Stephen F. Austin STEM Academy students will be able to experience that mantra through the new Jones Creek 4-H Club.
Stephen F. Austin STEM Academy counselor Danielle McDonald and Parent Teacher Organization President Nicole Hardesty organized the new chapter to give children a chance to come together and learn new things by being active as a club and in the community, they said.
The club was formed through the school, but membership is not limited to STEM Academy students. Members are from schools in Angleton, Lake Jackson and Freeport. Likewise, students from Jones Creek go to neighboring towns for other activities, and together, they all get to feel connected to different parts of the community.
The school has been very supportive of the club, Hardesty said. Organizers first met toward the end of last school year and continued meeting throughout the summer to keep the momentum going. More and more kids joined at each meeting, she said.
SFA STEM Academy goes from preschool up to sixth grade, while 4-H provides programs for ages 8 to 18. That means students can join as young as third grade and continue as members through high school, which also will provide them with the chance to participate in similar organizations, such as FFA.
Those not quite old enough for 4-H still have an opportunity to participate. Kindergarten through second-grade students are able to join as Cloverkids, which doesn’t require them to pay the $25 annual membership fee. Cloverkids are not fully fledged members and therefore are not eligible to show animals at the Brazoria County Fair, but they are able to join in some of the 4-H projects.
The projects help to draw in new members, McDonald said.
“The more projects we do, the more kids we get,” which keeps the club going, she said.
Projects include classes on photography, gardening and public speaking. Each project has six phases, and each phase must be completed in order to earn a project pin.
The kids are the ones who decide what skills they want to pursue, Hardesty said.
“If there’s something you want to do, 4-H will have something for you,” she said.
Project pins are given out each August at the county level of 4-H.
“We definitely want to keep increasing the projects that our kids are involved in,” McDonald said. “It’s not just about livestock.”
Livestock is one of the projects kids can participate in, of course. Six of the children showed animals at the Brazoria County Fair this year — mostly rabbits and one heifer, Hardesty said.
Participation in projects is not a requirement but is encouraged, and the project pins serve as an incentive.
“The culmination of what they’ve done at the fair, where they can compete, is really what’s driving them,” Hardesty said.
When the children showed rabbits this year, some earned ribbons and some didn’t, but they all supported each other, she said.
“They’re learning how to compete well with each other,” Hardesty said.
Parents have the opportunity to get involved in the organization by leading the projects for the kids.
“We have a lot of involved parents, and we’re really lucky for that,” McDonald said.
One project a mom and dad are interested in leading is a shooting team to teach the kids about gun safety, she said.
Members also learn leadership skills, as it’s the kids and not the adults who are responsible for running the monthly club meetings. The students elected officers who are responsible for keeping the meeting agenda, going through topics, greeting new members and answering questions about 4-H and joining the club.
“It surprises us how much kids are capable of because we want to protect them so much,” McDonald said, speaking from a parent’s point of view. “As parents, we’re learning a lot from them, too.”
Membership fees go directly to 4-H, while club fees are covered by fundraisers such as the Swap Meet and Flea Market hosted at SFA STEM Academy in November. The flea market taught the kids about consumerism, including how to count change, price items and serve customers. Homemade baked goods,handmade woodwork items, original paintings and even slime were among the items for sale.
Fundraisers, and the success the club has seen thus far, provide the opportunity for McDonald and Hardesty to look hopefully toward the future.
“Next year, our goal is to be able to pay the entry fees for kids who want to enter their project into the fair and for each kid to complete one project of some sort,” McDonald said.
No matter how next year goes, though, parents and educators can celebrate the kids and all that they’ve already achieved, she said.
“We’re really proud of all the kids that are involved,” McDonald said.