In Our Spotlight
First 4-H Virtual Fair in Massachusetts Held August 29
August 29 dawned with great anticipation for a group of Massachusetts children and teens, as the first-ever Massachusetts Virtual 4-H fair got underway. This fair was unlike prior 4-H Fairs—which have a long tradition-- because no cows, sheep or horses displayed their groomed bodies or high steps in outdoor rings. There were no halls overflowing with sewing projects, robotic models or photography on the walls. Massachusetts 4-H members were able to enter their projects in the online fair during the first two weeks of August through a specialized fair software program. Then, volunteer judges viewed the entries, evaluated them, and provided placings and awards.
Did it pass the test as a “real” fair? According to staff, 4-H’ers, and parents, it won a blue ribbon.
Opening ceremonies were held with youth attending from every county in the state. Two teens from Plymouth County sang the national anthem on a video they created, the 4-H pledge was recited, opening remarks were made by Interim 4-H Program Director Linda Horn and by long-time 4-H Educator Tom Waskiewicz, and then fair participants were able to view their results online. The usual categories of animal, science and technology, arts and crafts, food, photography and performing arts were on full display through still photographs or videos that were provided for evaluation.
In a normal year, animals would join together in a circle and 4-H youth participants would lead goats, sheep or cows around the judges’ table, showing good control of the animal, grooming skills and positive status of their animal’s health. For dogs and horses, specific patterns would also be followed. This year, all entries of this type were sent by video. So, in addition to all the expertise youth need to possess in animal care, they developed another skill: videography.
According to Linda Horn, participants were upbeat and appreciated the chance to celebrate closure for the past year of 4-H work when activities in other parts of their lives did not benefit from such a positive shared finish. One 4-H member said, “Thanks for giving us something fun and educational to do during the summer quarantine!” And a parent chimed in, “Our child did a great job and is very proud of all his work. He is thrilled with all the encouragement and praise he received.”
Horn added that another growth experience for both staff and youth was the sense they were all in this adventure together. When an enrollment did not go smoothly, the opportunity for staff and students to discuss technology issues often led to a sense of cameraderie as they worked on the issue together. She also acknowledged that without the time and efforts of a team of UMass 4-H staff, the virtual fair would not have occurred. Each person added their expertise to the process, whether it was knowledge of fair classes, animals, static exhibits obtaining judges, or technology.
In all, 203 4-H youth took part in the fair with a total of 1,263 entries. In the “nice outcome” category was the fact that some 4-H youth who never took place in a face-to-face 4-H fair were able to join in this year.
Horn acknowledges that a virtual fair does not take the place of an in-person event and she looks forward to the day they can get back to live showings. However, some elements may be retained, such as a chance to offer pre-fair critiques with tips for 4-H’ers before a live fair begins.
And those coveted ribbons that remain treasured keepsakes for many years to come? Participants were awarded virtual ribbons. It is a whole new world for these resilient and involved young people. Click here to view several final projects.