SHREVEPORT – LSU AgCenter’s AgMagic, now in its eighth year at the State Fair of Louisiana, teaches youth about agriculture and safety during four days of interactive school tours.
“In the past we just focused on agriculture. This year we added a safety theme,” said Karen Martin, LSU AgCenter northwest 4-H regional coordinator.
Each exhibit features a safety component, such as bicycle and helmet safety, poisonous plant identification, safe handling of tools and equipment, and hand-washing and food safety.
AgMagic began as a way to help educate youth and adults about agriculture, and teachers recognize the educational value, she said.
More than 3,000 students in grades three to six are registered for school tour days held Nov. 3, 4, 9 and 11.
“We come every year,” said Jennifer Gahagan, school counselor and 4-H Club leader from St. Mary’s Catholic School in Natchitoches. The agriculture experience with farming and industry and learning about different career options are great for the children, she said.
Michael Rabalais, a student from St. Mary’s, said he learned about insects at the entomology exhibit. “I learned that there are many different kinds of moths. There were lots of cases and the different kinds of moths and bugs and stuff,” he said.
Kristine Claire Murray, another St. Mary’s student, liked the corn and cotton exhibits. “We got to touch the cotton, and we got to go sit in the combine and take pictures,” she said.
“We have a lot of urban children who don’t understand agriculture and how important agriculture is in their daily lives. This gives them a good introduction,” said Patrick Colyer, LSU AgCenter northwest regional director.
Mychele Price, teacher and 10-year 4-H Club leader from Claiborne Magnet School in Shreveport, said she teaches inner-city students who don’t have an opportunity to learn more about agriculture.
“They think food comes from the grocery store. So this is a way for them to see more,” Price said.
Before her students arrived at AgMagic, they learned where corn comes from and what a combine is, and they began studying the history of agriculture in the United States, she said.
School groups spend about an hour going through the interactive exhibits, learning about entomology, crops, nutrition, horticulture, animals, forestry, wildlife and 4-H.
“It’s pretty exciting when there’s over 300 kids in here, and they’re all learning and doing something fun,” Martin said.
Kaileigh Barnes, a Claiborne Magnet School fourth-grader, said, “I think this is an awesome experience.”
Her classmate, Kya Secoundiata, said she liked the health train and learned about healthy eating.
The educational sessions are designed to align with classroom objectives, and teachers are provided with a resource packet containing three to five lessons and materials for classroom use following the tour, Martin said.
Cathy Grigg, a Central Elementary teacher from Webster Parish, said seeing things that many students have never seen before is important.
“A lot of them don’t know what agriculture is,” she said. “The hands-on activities are a big plus for students. They learn through doing, not by listening, so this is the best place for them to come for that.”
Each educational exhibit has a hands-on activity, said Caddo Parish 4-H agent Katherine Pace.
The 4-H section features archery so students can practice safety with a bow and foam-tipped arrows, and in the 4-H Safety Maze, students answer safety questions as they advance through the exhibit.
The crops exhibit features a table-top cotton ginner. Students can touch the cotton before and after it is ginned and inspect the seeds and lint removed in the ginning process.
Pace said another favorite activity is sitting in the cab of a combine and pretending to drive a tractor through the field.
“I love our touch and feel boxes. There is a question on the top that has to do with agriculture. So the kids put their hands in the opening and try to guess what is hidden. Then they can lift the lid to see what’s inside,” Pace said.
4-H teen leaders also learn leadership skills by serving as tour guides to assist school groups through the exhibits, she said.
Registration for school tours opens in early September and usually fills up within the first two weeks, according to Pace. AgMagic is open to all schools.
“This is truly a regional event for us,” Colyer said. “Everybody contributes in some way. Extension agents, researchers and research associates are involved in planning.”
Many volunteers assist during the three-week run for both school tours and self-guided tours, according to Colyer.
Volunteer groups such as Louisiana Tech food science students, Red River National Wildlife Refuge, Shreveport Parks and Recreation, and Louisiana Master Gardeners present demonstrations and workshops during the three-week event, he said.