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4-H Achievement Days Celebrate Youth While Keeping Communities Safe

Bailey Fairbanks

It’s fair season. But in the midst of a pandemic, 4-H Achievement Days will look a bit different for many of South Dakota’s more than 9,000 4-H members as South Dakota 4-H works to keep youth, volunteers and community members safe in counties across South Dakota. SDPB’s Lura Roti has this story.

For more than a century, 4-H members like Natoli have worked on projects that put this pledge into action. And the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic didn’t change that explains Tim Tanner, SDSU Extension State 4-H Program Director.

“I’ve just been really impressed with the number of youth who individually throughout the state sewed masks for first responders, went out into their communities and did flower beds, you know just at the family level because it was something that they could do to spruce up and improve the community. I think to me the real take home message is that adaptability piece,” says Tanner.

Adaptability has been key when it comes to navigating how 4-Hers and their communities will handle 4-H Achievement Days. Traditionally, 4-H Achievement Days are held across the state in conjunction with County Fairs. They showcase the 4-H projects members’ have worked on throughout the year. Projects are judged, so Achievement Days are also where members receive feedback on how their skills have improved from one year to the next. 

Tanner explains each county made decisions on whether or not they would hold 4-H Achievement Days and what the event will look like based on what 4-H leaders and supporters believe they need to do to keep youth and community members safe. 

“We havea wide variety of options each county selected based on local determining factors in any given space. From what I know, about two out of three counties did go ahead and move forward with in-person for achievement Days. Of course modified so that their social distancing and good hygiene practices will go on,” Tanner says.

Tripp and Gregory Counties are among the South Dakota counties deciding to host in-person Achievement Days. To keep everyone safe, they made changes to the traditional fair. Only 4-H members and their immediate families can attend livestock shows. Animals will return home after the livestock shows instead of being housed on the fairgrounds for the duration of Achievement Days. And there is no in-person judging interviews for display exhibits, like robotics, baked goods, hobbies and collectables, photography, educational displays, poetry and the more than 100 other project areas youth can be engaged in. 

“In both counties it was really important that we provided some opportunities for the kids to exhibit and get that judge’s feedback,” Laura Kahler says.

Laura Kahler is the SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisor for Tripp and Gregory Counties. She says designing a modified Achievement Day was done with a lot of community input and a bit of a heavy heart.

“It’s such a weird concept because we are always inviting the public to come to support the youth by looking at their projects, but this year we have to tell the public not to come, which definitely goes against our nature but we are setting up live streaming in both counties so that way relatives and friends and family at home are still able to watch shows,” says Kahler.

For the nearly 375 Gregory and Tripp 4-H members who are most impacted by these changes to the Achievement Day format in, they say they are just happy there IS an Achievement Day, explains Bailey Fairbanks, a Winner High School freshman and member of the Clovervale 4-H Club.

“We should be trying to do everything we can to keep each other safe and I am really happy that we’re able to all pull together and make this possible, to have a fair,” Fairbanks says.

Earlier this summer her friends and grandparents watched a Facebook Live Stream as Bailey competed in the 4-H Horse Show. They will do the same when she shows her pig, dairy calf and goats during this year’s Tripp County 4-H Achievement Days. 

You can view live stream livestock shows by connecting to the Tripp and Gregory Facebook pages.