A tiny private school in Fulton is planning to start the county's only school-based 4-H Club this fall, and Maryland 4-H Foundation leaders couldn't be happier about it.
High Road Academy, which serves students with learning disabilities, looked into the youth program and decided it would be beneficial for the children, many of whom have never belonged to an organized club.
"Because this is a private school, we don't have a lot of the extracurricular things public schools have," said Ellen Gaske, academy director. "None of my students have been involved in a club. A lot of our boys do sports, but that's about it."
With so many potential clubs to choose from - arts and crafts, computers, recreation, science - Gaske and seventh-grade teacher Beverly Goering chose 4-H, a program that has a little bit of everything. The two thought the program's hands-on emphasis would be a good fit for the special education students, especially considering the school's grassy location.
4-H is over 90 years old and traditionally an agriculture-based organization. In recent years, the program has moved to attract youngsters in urban and suburban areas.
In the South and Midwest, 4-H programs are in place in many public middle schools and high schools, with students using what they learn in 4-H to help them in class and in preparation for careers.
But in suburban Howard County, there are no school-organized 4-H Clubs, and only a handful of the 37 clubs meet at schools.
"It's exciting because this would be a good start for more clubs to get started, more people to learn about 4-H," said Hope M. Jackson, interim director of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Office for Howard County, which oversees local 4-H programs.
Many programs for kids
Jackson started working with the Maryland 4-H Foundation in 1976 and has been trying to recruit students and start clubs, particularly in schools, since then. She thinks schools may have been reluctant to organize 4-H Clubs because of the many other programs, clubs and activities suburban kids have to choose from every year.
"Someone may get the idea to start up a 4-H Club and then soccer comes along or some other sport or something else educational," Jackson said. "In Howard County, in particular, agricultural areas are getting smaller and smaller."
In some ways, that's what makes High Road Academy a perfect candidate to start a 4-H Club.
The school, on the top floor of a church off Scaggsville Road in Fulton, has a pond in its back yard, a cow pasture within walking distance and cornfields less than a mile away.
"We've got a lot of natural resources," Gaske said. "We've got every critter that you could possibly think of out here."
Gaske envisions the student body of 22- which will grow to 40 in the fall - creating a "schoolyard habitat" outside its back doors, with bird feeders, a garden, observation stations and a fitness/nature trail.
But true to 4-H's more modern form, High Road's club also will offer programs in areas such as citizenship, aerospace, electricity, small engines, woodworking, nutrition, health and fitness, money management and entrepreneurship.
"With our population, we've got a lot of really above-average kids who happen to have a learning disability," said Gaske. "They're very hands-on, very project-oriented. We see a lot of benefits from this. It fits into our curriculum, and all these practical things lead into looking at some career options."
Seventh-grade teacher Goering, who participated in 4-H as a student and as a club leader most of her life, said the students also have to learn Roberts Rules of Order, elect a president and vice president and learn to keep notes, present minutes and complete projects.
She envisions that one day, the High Road 4-H'ers will compete in county, state and national competitions, traveling, learning and having fun.
"Being in 4-H really taught me a lot of self-confidence," Goering said. "That's kinda what I expect them to do."