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Michael Rethwisch, UNL Extension Educator for Butler and Polk counties, answered a few questions about the experience of preparing 4-H youth for competition at the Nebraska State Fair. here's what he had to say:

Describe the process of getting the 4-Hers into learning about plants, trees, insects and weeds.

The process is first to ask them if they are interested, and if so, encourage them to think about the opportunity and how it could benefit them. Often they can visit with other 4-Hers who have done the contest, thus potentially putting fears of the unknown to rest.

If they are still interested, they are provided some educational materials (some developed in the Butler County office) that makes it easier for them to learn, and then multiple get-togethers with real specimens and or pictures to help the learning retention and confidence of the individual youth.

My habit has been to spend more time with the new participants as they have the most to learn, but to make sure that we have fun while learning at the same time.

My philosophy is that I want to ensure that the newest participants are well enough prepared for their first state level endeavor so that they have a positive experience, rather than feel they were unprepared and will never want to do this again.

What is the time commitment?

In my opinion, it depends upon the individual’s age and abilities and the contests in which he or she is participating. At the state and national level the results are often reflective of the amount of preparation time/mastery of the subject prior to the contest.

How often do the 4-Hers get together or study as a group?

Good question, there are indeed extremes on this. Some youth only met with me once or twice this year (most of these were not new this year) for a single contest, although they may have been competing in multiple contests.

For the new youth it is hoped they get a chance to look at the real thing perhaps 3 times prior to the contest.

With the numbers of youth involved, and the number of various schools they attend and their involvement in activities, finding a time when everyone can meet is usually an exercise in futility. Small groups are usually what is utilized.

What keeps them motivated to be at the top of their game?

Good question that I don't know I can answer for them. Each youth will be different.

I hope that you hear from them that they want to make their best better (which is the 4-H motto), which is how we approach things. If you made your best better, than you have improved yourself, thus you “win.” We can't control anything else.

For some, it may be the opportunity to compete and place in a state contest and be recognized for their accomplishment.

I want the youth to master and greatly expand their knowledge base, rather than just be exposed to the plants and insects and then lose quickly gained knowledge from lack of repetition and mastery. This helps with their confidence and often their self-esteem as well.

What is it like to work with this group and see their growth?

I enjoy working with youth, and helping them learn. It provides me with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment as there is a tangible measurable impact in short period of time, when based on their scores in the state contest. I can see that my efforts have made a difference.


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