UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As group-gathering restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic begin to ease, leaders of the Pennsylvania 4-H youth development program are planning for the probability that youth 4-H members and volunteer leaders will be able to participate in program activities in person in the coming months.
However, the organization is likely to take a hybrid approach — with in-person activities supplemented with virtual offerings — into the future, according to Joshua Rice, Penn State Extension assistant director for 4-H youth development programs.
"One of the primary ways that the 4-H program had to evolve during the earlier stages of the pandemic was shifting our program offerings to a virtual format," Rice said. "It was important that the sense of community and connection that exists within the program remain, even if that meant that it would have to be achieved in a new way."
He noted that 4-H clubs were able to hold meetings virtually, and some county-based 4-H extension educators hosted "Ask the Educator" Zoom hours each week to give volunteer leaders, members and parents a chance to get updates and ask questions. Educators also developed learn-at-home projects, offered virtual camps and countywide virtual social events, and provided lessons and resources for teachers to support in- and out-of-classroom learning.
"We also moved some of our larger statewide events to a virtual format," Rice said. "These included our 4-H State Leadership Conference, which had youth participants from nine states, and our 4-H Capital Days event. During these events and in the post-event surveys, numerous members told us that the virtual format gave them a chance to participate in the programs for the first time."