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Indiana 4-H Educators' Alaskan Experience

“We were 3,300 miles from home doing what we love,” Effie Campbell, Indiana 4-H youth development educator for Purdue Extension – Dekalb County, reflected fondly.

Campbell and Tami Mosier, Indiana 4-H youth development educator for Purdue Extension – Steuben County, traveled to Bethel, Alaska, this past spring to partner with the Alaska 4-H program to lead a week-long day camp. Youth in kindergarten through 6th grade attended the day camp along with teenagers and two Alaskan 4-H staff employees.

“In Indiana, when we think of day camp, we think of it lasting from midmorning to midday and that was not the case in Alaska,” explained Mosier. “We kept being told time is fluid. Nothing really started until mid to late morning and it worked.”

Each morning, they met with teen counselors for team building and soft skill development through hands-on activities. Day campers would arrive later on for lunch and educational programming after reciting the 4-H pledge.

Indiana 4-H educator working with Alaskan campers.jpg

“My expertise is in creative and expressive arts, while Tami’s is in nature science. So, when we were first planning out our curriculum, we wanted to find some way to mash them together and promote learning on both sides of the brain,” said Campbell.

Throughout the week, the educators used art and science to teach topography, the color wheel, one point perspective and environmental educational models. They spoke about how the environment in Indiana is different from the one in Alaska, the most noteworthy difference being permafrost.  They also led activities that showed how art, like sketching, can be used to understand science.

The Alaskan 4-H educators were at first hesitant about Campbell and Mosier teaching high-level scientific topics like taxonomy and topography to kids of such a young age. But throughout the programming, they saw how high-level topics can be taught at a basic level that increases interest.

“Taxonomy is the way everything in science is classified into family groups. So, we started with a game of Guess Who since that’s classification. We then moved to a deck of playing cards and broke that down by color and suit,” said Mosier. “From there, we were able to leap into science where we had them identify tree species and insect species.”

“That was probably the part that was most impactful for their staff, seeing how you can take a high-level topic and break it down, even for kindergarteners. That’s probably what I’m most proud of too – that we can teach things in an easy and tangible way that still develops their (youth) interest in these activities.”

Indiana 4-H educator with youth.jpg

The kids weren’t the only people learning. Campbell and Mosier learned firsthand how water conservation is at the forefront of everyday life for Alaskans. Each week, homes and businesses in Bethel receive their water supply for the week and store it on their property.

“Water is very precious in Alaska and you have to conserve it because they don’t have the same kind of groundwater like we do in Indiana,” said Mosier. “They re-wear clothing a lot more frequently than we might. We were even told not to wash the dishes at the place we stayed because people from the Lower 48 waste a lot more water than Alaskans.”

Campbell and Mosier explain that the trip has helped them become better educators back home in Indiana.

“I came back a more confident teacher. I find public speaking uncomfortable sometimes, but being there, being able to teach the activities and art that I love gave me more confidence to say OK, now I can try this back home,” said Campbell.

“I’ve made a lot of assumptions about my own community and my own culture that I probably need to take a second look at. I experienced a lot of dichotomous emotions throughout the trip and coming home I was so grateful for what we have in Indiana and my community,” added Mosier.

Group photo of Alaskan day campers with Indiana 4-H educators. Group photo of Alaskan day campers with Indiana 4-H educators, Effie Campbell and Tami Mosier.

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