Although they might not be in a classroom taking notes and getting grades, local Routt County 4-H members take part in a different kind of learning process using a more hands-on approach.
Colorado State University Ex--tension Office Agent Deb Alpe said the lessons 4-H members learn by being involved with the program are invaluable. Most of the things 4-H teaches are lessons and abilities that members will use the rest of their lives, such as time management, responsibility and teamwork skills.
Members from the 13 4-H clubs in Routt County put all the lessons they learned throughout the year to the test this week by showing their nonlivestock projects Aug. 6 at Soroco High School and by participating in the Junior Livestock Sale on Saturday.
Both events are an opportunity for members to present their projects or animals to judges in hopes of winning a ribbon or a prestigious grand champion title for their animals.
"4-H gives kids the opportunity to have real-life experiences," Alpe said. "They experience the kinds of things they never could in a classroom."
For example, Alpe said each member submits one or more projects to be judged in a livestock or nonlivestock category. Most members submit more than one project. This year, Alpe said members completed projects on a variety of topics, including tiger sharks, how to oil a tractor and how a cat sees at night.
For each project a member enters, he or she is required to keep a record book, which is a log of the process to complete the project.
Through these books, Alpe said members learn how to be record keepers and mathematicians.
"They're not just learning in a vacuum. They get to be outside a classroom actually experiencing what they are working on," she said.
Alpe said 4-H encourages members to use their experiences in relation to other school activities, such as public speaking. Because every 4-H member has to give an oral demonstration explaining their project, they use those skills and can apply them to public-speaking classes in high school or college.
Alpe said the 4-H program's philosophy for teaching children is by taking a learn-by-doing approach to everything they experience.
Most members will come across problems or mistakes during their work in preparation for the fair, giving them an opportunity to note those failures and fix them.
This year, Alpe sent 56 nonlivestock projects to the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo to represent Routt County. In addition, there were more than 120 animals up for auction at Saturday night's Junior Livestock Sale, another proud moment for 4-H members who spent the year working hard with their cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits or chickens.
Julie May, 17, lives in Steam-boat Springs but works on an Arabian horse ranch, where she keeps her animals. May joined the Good Times 4-H club of Hayden after she decided her experiences on the ranch were not enough to satisfy her.
"I love working with the animals, so I decided to start showing my own," she said.
May, a student at Steamboat Springs High School, said the one thing she gets most out of being involved in 4-H is self-discipline.
"I have to be responsible," she said. "I have to feed and take care of my animals every day."
May said another reflection she sees of 4-H in her school work is the time-management skills she has learned in completing her project record book.
"I had to record everything it took for me to get my animals ready for the fair," she said.
May showed her horse Monday and was prepping her pig, Kanga, for the livestock sale Saturday.
May said the time commitment to 4-H and taking care of livestock is daunting during the school year because she lives in Steamboat and not on the ranch.
Alpe said 4-H commands a great deal of time from its members but that most children know how to manage their time efficiently to accomplish their 4-H and academic goals.
Alpe said the school districts also are very good about supporting children in 4-H in working with their schedules and adjusting to days the students might have a 4-H activity, such as when Alpe takes 4-H members to the state Capitol in Denver.
Alpe said most 4-H members also are involved in sports and other school activities that demand a lot of their time.
"It seems to me that most kids who are in one thing, are in everything," she said.
During her 10 years working with the 4-H clubs in Routt County, Alpe said she was most honored to watch the 4-H children grow up through the program.
Some former members since have become leaders, mentors or volunteers for the fair.
"They always have a tendency to give back to the community," she said.
Alpe also said that 4-H offers several scholarship opportunities for older members to continue their education.
"A little incentive isn't a bad thing," she said.