She would not begin her 4-H demonstration until her favorite teacher was there to help.
Ms. Kelly Guglietta had to stoop to get into the classroom with her stilts and 2-foot-tall top hat. It was election day, and Guglietta was all decked out in her patriotic best, right down to the blinking lights on her suspenders framing the “I voted” sticker.
Much of the rest of her day was spent helping the school vote for a lunch party (I hear chicken sliders, hot fries, and a technology party won the election), but at this moment, Aaliyah Revill said the teacher’s place was beside her.
Guglietta did her best to lean down to Aaliyah’s height while still on stilts, and finally Aaliyah was ready to teach the 30 or so fifth-graders in the room about monkeys.
We challenge all 4-H’ers to complete a demonstration.
Leading up to this presentation they must choose a subject and complete research. They organize the information, write a speech with an introduction and conclusion and create posters and props to help teach their subject.
Finally, it’s time to stand in front of the class and present.
I hear every excuse for not presenting: “I left it at my other house. My cards were in my desk, but now they’re gone. You weren’t here to remind me yesterday.”
I remind them that our motto is “To Make the Best Better,” and that it simply means I want to see their personal best effort at the 4- to 6-minute demonstration.
It’s okay when the final product doesn’t look the same as someone else’s best effort. I want to see each child learn something new, practice their public speaking skills, and gain a little confidence.
For some children, that is a well-researched, 6-minute demonstration on the fine details of fly fishing or tomato gardening. For others, it’s a 2-and-half-minute, rushed speech about their favorite football player.
One will have mom or dad there with all their props, teaching the class about life as a real estate agent or what you need to start scuba diving.
Others cut out notebook paper to look like note cards and make their poster on the back of a cardboard cereal box.
Some are wearing a T-shirt tucked into jeans while others come in their best Sunday suit.
Sometimes I’m afraid they really don’t know just how proud I am of their work, perhaps especially when I see so much effort put into turning the back of a cardboard box into a project poster.
For others, the challenges are more than just resources.
I once saw a 4-H’er give a demonstration on horses shortly after moving to the school. She did not speak or write much English yet, so she gave the entire demonstration in Spanish, with a classmate beside her translating after each notecard.
Revill and classmates David Bumbaough, Brendan Jackson and Ja’quan Benton are in special education classes. Many of their peers across the county may not even attend 4-H meetings or will skip doing demonstrations.
But on this day, these four young people brought me to tears with how they stepped up the challenge and truly gave their best.
Brendan Jackson did his demonstration on flying squirrels and created a poster filled with squirrels gliding around his words. His strong, clear voice carried across the room.
Ja’quan Benton talked about German shepherds and made sure to add color to his poster and write with a bold marker so the class could read his title. David Bumbaough organized his speech on bats into main points and gave me a copy at the end.
I imagine Guglietta and the other teachers probably assisted even more than standing beside each to help prompt their words and lend them courage, but that’s exactly what we do for every 4-H’er depending on their skills and resources.
In the end, they’re up there with 30 pairs of eyes staring at them as they share their research, same as any other 4- H’er.
Aaliyah spoke softly and looked intently down at her cards through her speech, but the bright smile of triumph as she looked up at the end reminded me what true success looks like.
Terri Fullerton is a County Extension Agent in 4-H Youth with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.