University of Maryland Extension

Our Baltimore County 4-Her Goes International

Anna McGucken in Guatemala
Representing 4-H and Baltimore County 4-H everywhere I go!

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala for eight weeks and volunteer as an agricultural sciences teacher in the local elementary schools. This trip was part of my Master’s program at Texas A&M University and while there I conducted research for my thesis. I am currently studying Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications with a focus in International Agricultural Development.

I grew up in Baltimore County 4-H and so have witnessed and experienced first-hand the incredible impacts that 4-H can have on youth development. In addition, a lot of research has been done which suggests that 4-H can have substantial impacts on life-skill development (such as improved communication and leadership skills), healthy-living, and attitudes towards science.  Therefore, I was interested to study the impacts of 4-H curriculum on youth in an international setting such as Guatemala.

Many developing countries in Central America have underdeveloped and under supported education systems and so many students, especially impoverished rural indigenous students, are limited in what they can learn and achieve. The rural youth are generally not a high priority group for government policies in developing countries and so tend to receive less education, have fewer opportunities for employment, face more health problems, and are more likely to be involved in civil conflicts (Bennel, 2007). Their potential is stifled by lack of support and as a result so is the country’s overall development. After all, the youth are the future of any country! Programs that support youth development, such as 4-H, ought to be encouraged within developing countries so that the youth can build strong foundations for their futures.

One possibility of a 4-H program that has the potential to have a significant impact on youth is JMGthe Junior Master Gardener (JMG) program. The JMG program is an international youth gardening program operated through the University Extension network which uses fun, creative, and interactive lessons designed to teach elementary aged children about horticulture, the environment, service-learning, and life-skill development. Therefore, while in Guatemala this summer I selected and led about 20 JMG lessons from the Junior Master Gardener Level ONE Teacher/Leader Guide and then evaluated the impacts on the students and teachers.

The topics of lessons included plant needs, plant parts, benefits of plants, soil composition, the water cycle, food chain, benefits of insects, food pyramid, pollution, and recycling. Overall, I had a great time with the kids and I think that they really learned a lot too! Some of the teachers that I worked with indicated that they thought that their students showed an increased desire to learn about science, stronger leadership and group work skills, and a better understanding about the importance of taking care of the environment.

For my final lesson, I led a classic JMG activity with the kids in which we created small seed “cookies” out of paper mache. We blended newspaper and water together, put the mixture in cookie cutter molds, and then buried a small vegetable seed within the cookie. Once the cookies had dried, the students were able to take them home, share with their parents about what they learned, and then plant the cookie and watch their vegetable plant grow! My parents came to visit me my last week in Guatemala so of course they jumped right in and got their hands dirty and helped lead this fun activity as well.

The organization that I volunteered with was so impressed by the JMG curriculum that they asked if they could keep the JMG lesson book so that they could give it to other volunteers to use in the future! I look forward to following up with them within the next few months to see how the JMG program is doing! I am so thankful for everything that I learned during my 12 years in Baltimore County 4-H and I am so honored and thrilled to have had the opportunity to share 4-H with youth around the world! It is my hope that they too can use 4-H to become strong leaders within their schools, communities, country, and world!

Bennel, P. (2007). Promoting livelihood opportunities for rural youth. Knowledge and Skills for Development Paper. IFAD. Retrieved from:

Anna was a member of the Baltimore County 4-H Rabbit Club, and 4-H Dairy Goat Club, she attended the University of Maryland and graduated with BS degrees in Animal and Avian Sciences and Agricultural Sciences and Technology in May 2012.  Anna is currently attending Texas A&M University where she is studying Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications with a focus in International Agricultural Development

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