By Melanie Biersmith
University of Georgia
As summer transitions into fall, students across Georgia return to their classrooms. Whether those classrooms are virtual, at home, or in a brick-and-mortar school, learning can occur anywhere. The Georgia 4-H Environmental Education Program uses nature as a classroom for students across the Southeast.
Offered at all five 4-H centers across Georgia, this high-quality, research-based education program is taught in the unique ecosystems of Georgia, from the mountains, through the piedmont and to the sea. Wahsega 4-H Center is in the north Georgia mountains of Dahlonega, Fortson 4-H Center is just south of Atlanta in Hampton, Rock Eagle 4-H Center is in the heartland of Georgia in Eatonton, Burton 4-H Center is just outside Savannah on Tybee Island, and Jekyll Island 4-H Center is on the barrier island of Georgia known as “Georgia’s Jewel.”
Students from all over the Southeast, whether enrolled in public, private, virtual or home-based schools, can take advantage of these experiential learning opportunities from September through May of each school year. The EE program serves kindergarten through 12th grade youth, as well as the adult teachers, leaders, and chaperones that attend the day and/or residential field studies. Experiences range in length from two hours to several days.
Each of the five 4-H centers has lodging facilities and a full-service dining hall. A typical three-day/two-night field study includes seven meals, two nights of lodging, and approximately 16 hours of education. EE programs are not typical educational experiences. At one of the two coastal sites, students learn marsh ecology by walking into the marsh to feel detritus, hold fiddler crabs, and see rare birds like the wood stork or the roseate spoonbill. In the piedmont, students do not just hear about what life was like for the pioneers, they live it by using pioneer tools, playing pioneer games, and visiting historic sites. In the mountains, a stream ecology lesson takes students into a cool mountain stream to sample and identify macro-invertebrates.
While each 4-H center provides programming that is unique to its ecosystem, each program shares a common standard for excellence maintaining correlations to the Georgia Performance Standards. The Georgia 4-H Environmental Education Program is recognized for bringing school concepts to life and connecting students to the natural world using nature as a classroom without walls. While the programs emphasize the sciences, lessons also complement history/social studies, language arts, and mathematics and promote team building, skill development, communication, and relationship building.
In its rich 31-year history, the Georgia 4-H Environmental Education Program has served close to 900,000 youth. But during any given field study, the attention is on each and every participant. Student-to-instructor ratios are kept low, typically at 15:1 or even less. These small learning groups allow students to connect and interact with adults in ways that are not offered in typical school settings. Georgia 4-H EE also recognizes that every child has a unique learning style and that by presenting new information and concepts in a variety of ways (including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic formats) students are more likely to succeed and benefit from the programming.
For more information on Georgia 4-H EE, see the website www.georgia4h.org/ee or contact Melanie Biersmith, Georgia 4-H specialist, at (706) 484-2800.