Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Jan 1, 2021
Project End Date
Dec 31, 2023
Grant Year
Project Director
Guerdat, K.
Recipient Organization
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
It is widely understood that access to technologies for learning, including high speed internet, is not equitably distributed. The 'Digital Divide' between minority, poor and underserved students and their peers has been studied at least since 1998. These challenges have been exacerbated by remote learning and the heightened anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Closing the Gap aims to address the double-barrier of low-income levels and local infrastructure issues that rural students regularly face.Rural elementary educators, who also face issues of connectivity, are now tasked with addressing existing issues (i.e., implementing effective science curriculum with challenged learners) in unfamiliar remote delivery methods. As it is, science is often the most difficult subject for many elementary educators to deliver effectively. As the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shift to remote learning have caused losses in academic and SEL development for students around the world, younger students in vulnerable or underserved rural populations have been disproportionately affected. Issues such as learning loss and mental health issues caused by social isolation and home-based trauma (increased depression, anxiety; decreased engagement and self-motivation) have deepened the disparity gaps (Brown, et. al., 2020). As a result, rural youth are falling farther behind their more privileged peers.To address the academic and social issues stemming from the Covid 19 pandemic, the 4-H NEC proposes a unique model that infuses SEL and trauma-informed teaching practices to build resilience through a Whole Child approach to virtual learning. the 4-H NEC proposes a unique model that takes into account three specific COVID-related needs: (1) student participation impacted by inequitable internet access, (2) teacher instructional challenges caused by rapid transitions to distance learning, and (3) youth social-emotional health dependent on whole-child belonging-oriented experiences.Through a 'flipped' 4-H school enrichment approach, 4-H Agri-STEM professionals will work alongside educators, utilizing a 'just in time' training model to address challenges caused by the move to virtual learning. The 4-H NEC project will provide educators with distance education curriculum and training as well as Agri-STEM Mentors to assist with distance, in-class lessons based on AFRI's food and agriculture priority areas.In addition, in response to these academic and SEL needs of rural youth, the Closing the Gap Initiative will rapidly deploy "E-mentorship" strategies, combining innovative E-mentorship methods with engaging educational content in agriscience. Through the use of Agri-STEM Mentors, students will experience a greater sense of belonging in their virtual educational space and support for their future academic and career pathways.The 4-H NEC 's Closing the Gap initiative will enhance educators capacity to support student outcomes during a time when youth are being challenged academically, socially, and emotionally. Through innovative distance active learning models, youth will not only get to interact virtually with peers and their educators, but will develop life skills essential for building resilient youth and thriving communities. During this time of Covid-enforced isolation, 4-H is positioned to reach into families' homes to support home-based youth development. Even more important than the learning experiences themselves, is the sense of belonging that comes from relationships with positive adult and peer mentors, which truly moves the needle on addressing the negative impacts of COVID -19 on children's mental and physical health and wellbeing.As a gateway to future opportunities within the agriscience field, Closing the Gap will engage industry partners to help forge the connection between youth and businesses while introducing corporate leaders to their future workforce. From reading stories to creating videos, agriscience organizational leaders will be asked to help support lessons designed to tie classrooms to the food and agriculture systems industry.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Knowledge Area
806 - Youth Development;

Subject Of Investigation
6099 - People and communities, general/other;

Field Of Science
0001 - Administration;
Goals / Objectives
The overarching goal of this project is to address the negative impacts stemming from COVID-19 on rural educators and students through the use of enriched 4-H active learning experiences combined with handheld technology for enhanced connectedness.The 4-H NEC's macro objective is to address the educational challenges stemming from COVID-19 through the expansion of the traditional 4-H school enrichment model to a 100% remote learning support system for educators. The micro-objectives designed to support the overarching goal and macro objective are:Increase rural educator capacity for delivering 100% remote AgriSTEM learning experiences through training, volunteer support, and classroom resources.Increase equity and access to educational technology for rural youth and educators through the development of local Tablet loan programs.Enhanced connectedness and sense of belonging for students through the use of remote, hands-on educational experiences.Build resiliency in youth through an intentional 'whole child' centered program design.Provide rural youth with classroom mentors who are able to consistently support them in managing their online learning and life skill development.Increased local Agricultural industry partners to help forge the connection between businesses and their community youth as evidenced by increased participation of business leaders in local classrooms
Project Methods
Through an enhanced 4-H school enrichment distance learning model, the 4-H NEC will provide curricular support and training to rural educators throughout NH, VT, and ME. The collaborative will support educators through innovative, flipped, educational approaches complete with student tablets, experiential curriculum, and virtual mentoring from 4-H Agri-STEM Mentors.Through the use of Samsung tablets equipped with various synchronous and asynchronous learning tools (i.e. Photovoice, Flipgrid, Seesaw, etc.) the 4-H NEC will connect youth through the virtual classroom to their educators, peers, and larger community. Enhanced connectedness will emerge from student use of integrated technology and a suite of apps designed to facilitate collecting, processing and sharing of information. Tablets will bridge the gap created by classrooms that do not allow in person collaboration or sharing of materials. Using apps such as Google Science Journal, Google Classroom, See Saw and others, students can quickly snap and share photos of their work, video recordings of their ideas and even their written observations of phenomena.The 4-H NEC initiative will enhance existing and newly developed curriculum to include a 100% distance-based support option. While the 4-H NEC team has already begun this process with two programs (4-H: Food Systems Feed Us and 4-H: Cultivating Roots- An Introduction to Hydroponics andFood Systems Feed Us) project efforts will be to further adapt additional 4-H curriculum for the distance learning environment including STEMgineering, Ag in a Box, and Growing a Pizza Garden. Each of these programs have been piloted and will be strengthened by infusing virtual, active learning principles to encourage youth's independent, at-home, learning.The 4-H NEC efforts will enable them to work alongside rural educators to deliver hands-on, distance learning for students in grades 2nd -6th, pairing them with 4-H Agri-STEM mentors who will help facilitate the distance learning experience. Mentors will hold zoom sessions weekly during which students and educators will engage in agriscience lessons designed to connect 4-H Agri-STEM Mentors with educators AND students. Each student will receive a curriculum kit at their home containing all necessary materials for each lesson's active learning component. The 'in-home' experience supports content skill and knowledge development, but also creates a mechanism for discourse, enhancing essential future 21st Century workforce skills such as critical thinking, communication, and time management.As many rural school districts do not have access to technology devices for all of their students, the 4-H NEC has established a community- based tablet loan program for student use during the 4-H experience. As some youth may not have consistent access to the internet, all lessons will be pre-loaded with instructional videos and required applications for youth to remotely participate. Local 4-H professionals will work with the families to help upload reflections (photos and journals) as needed as well as help establish hotspots at the local 4-H program offices.Educators who engage in the project will attend a virtual training with 4-H Curriculum specialists and 4-H Agri-STEM Mentors one month prior to implementation. 4-H Agri-STEM Mentors will use zoom classroom sessions to model best practices for educators on how to establish belonging in the distance learning space. The mentors will meet with the educators periodically to measure progress and to provide additional support. While additional training on curriculum kits and technical assistance is provided at no-cost by the local 4-H program, educators will be limited to only 1 fully grant supported curriculum kit experience per academic year. Limiting participation to new educators each semester helps to ensure as many educators will be trained and the most youth reached as possible. In order to sustain the mentor relationship beyond the curriculum experience, each educator will also be paired with a Agri-STEM Mentor volunteer for future 4-H curriculum implementation. Trained by 4-H Curriculum specialists and 4-H Agri-STEM Mentor leads, 4-H Agri-STEM Volunteers are matched to educator needs as appropriate.Evaluation:The 4-H NEC will use both formative and summative assessment processes and tools to help inform future implementations of the remote delivery of school enrichment support. For educator impact assessment, a pre-post survey will be used to determine knowledge and skill development, providing both formative and summative information. Educators will complete the pre- survey during initial curriculum training. Post 4-H school enrichment experience, educators will report on level of self-perceived skill and knowledge gained, future training needs and overall satisfaction with the 4-H remote School Enrichment experience. NH 4-H Agri-STEM professionals currently use an educator impact survey which will be modified to capture educators skill and knowledge change within distance teaching techniques.The assessment of youth (student) outcomes will include a pre-post survey model and 'in-class' observations recorded by 4-H STEM Mentors and educators. As with the educator survey process, the pre-post survey tools will be utilized to indicate change needed for future implementation as well as to capture the overall semester experience of the youth. Classroom educators and 4-H Agri-STEM Mentors will meet weekly post zoom sessions to discuss observations of student engagement and learning throughout the experience. Final curriculum project grade will be used as a summative tool to highlight areas of student knowledge and skill development as well as aspirational change.

Progress 01/01/21 to 12/31/21

Target Audience:Over the past year, the 4-H NEC Collaborative reached over 820 youth in the targeted audience of rural youth within grades 2nd through 6th throughout the states of New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. Of the 820 youth, the initiative reached 151 migrant youth within the designated rural communitiesduring the summer of 2021. In addition to the targeted youth population, the 4-H NEC initiative reached 30 educators in the targetedrural audience. Changes/Problems:No major changes at this time. All efforts have aligned with initial proposed project. What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?All classroom educators, AgriScience mentors, and volunteers received training in support of the project. Training was provided on the curricularcontent and supportive learning kits, best practicesin social-emotional learning, utilization of educational technology,as well as overall introduction to 4-H positive development school enrichment. Training was provided at the onset for all of the above mentioned project members as well as offered throughout the spring, summer, and fall sessions. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?At this time, results have been shared with the school districts supporting the 4-H NEC initiative as well as Cooperative Extension leadership teams as results are preliminary and continually being assessed. Final results will be provided and disseminated 1-3 months post final session implementation (December 2022). What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals?The 4-H NEC team intends to continue to provide support to the targeted audiences by reaching new classrooms and identifying new AgriScience Mentor volutneers to support the 4-H AgriScience learning experiences. Additional marketing materials will be developed to increase engagement from industry partners for voluntneer opportunites as well as resource identification and growth. Curriculum will be continually reviewed and adapted with student and educator feedback to ensure a quality postiive youth development experience is provided and supported by the 4-H NEC team.

What was accomplished under these goals? Major accomplishments of the 4-H NEC initiative during this reporting period included the following. The negative impacts stemming from COVID-19 on rural educators and students were addressed through the use of enriched 4-H active learning experiences combined with handheld technology for enhanced connectedness.Rural educator capacity for deliveringremote AgriSTEM learning experiences was enhanced through the support of in-class AgriSTEM mentors and volunteers who delivered the curriculum experience to classroom youth. Training was provided to all educators and volunteers on the curriculum as well as best practices for delivering agri-science experiential learning experiences. Samsung tablets loaded with the 4-HAgriScience lessons were provided (on loan) to all students to Increase equity and access to educational technology. the tablets improvedconnectedness and sense of belonging for students as they provided opportunities for remote, hands-on educational experiences. The 'whole child' centered approach was established through the use of the newly developed 4-H AgriScience curriculum which included the best practicesof social-emotional learningas well as utilizing project-based learning models that supports all student learning modalities (visual, auditory, kinesthetic). The initiatives continues to develop local Agricultural industry partners to help forge the connection between businesses and their community youth as the 2nd year of implementation will be heavily focused on recruiting industry partners as classroom volunteers.