4-H program at UOG: Planting seeds of sustainable living in Guam’s youth
The importance of agriculture and sustainable practices are common lessons that Bonifacio Urbano teaches to his students at Jose Rios Middle School. Only the learning doesn’t take place in a traditional classroom setting. His seventh and eighth graders roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty while learning about in-ground farming, raised bed gardening, container gardens as well as hydroponic and aquaponic farming.
Urbano says that Clifford Kyota and Reedwin Edwin, UOG extension assistants for the 4-H Youth Development Program at the University of Guam, have been the biggest supporters in regard to the many projects he takes on — providing him with the necessary tools and training for the program to run smoothly and successfully.
“I have added more classes because of the number of requests I have received from other teachers,” Urbano said. “Thankfully, Clifford and Reedwin have been happy to accommodate.”
The 4-H program, in its mission to help youth in acquire knowledge and skills that will enable them to become self-directing and productive members of society, provides resources and expertise to volunteer community leaders and teachers in providing hands-on educational experiences.
While the need for technology for student learning is significant, Urbano said that taking students outside of the traditional classroom setting for a more hands-on learning approach is just as important, as this helps bridge the connection between the two modes of learning.
Their school garden, where students spend the majority of their class time, spans about 100 square meters and contains tomatoes, bok choy, peppers, star beans, and eggplant.
“It is an exciting program,” Urbano said. “The students enjoy being outdoors, and while they are working, they do not even realize that they are learning.”
“The [4-H] workshops are easy to understand, and I am learning a lot about agriculture
and how to take better care of plants.”
– Gabriella Quintanilla,
7th Grader at F.B. Leon Guerrero Middle School
Life science teacher and 4-H program adviser Lali Thundiyil has been teaching students the basics of gardening and various agriculture related curricula for more than 20 years at F.B. Leon Guerrero Middle School.
The 4-H Youth Development Program at UOG has supported her efforts to produce new lessons, develop new internship programs, and create a nursery at the school. Thundiyil said the program helps enhance overall student learning, while also teaching students various life skills.
“4-H has provided all the materials for my class,” Thundiyil said. “Together, we prepare different types of planting and composting methods to introduce to my students.”
Thundiyil is very happy to be working with 4-H because of the mentorship opportunities and STEM projects they provide for his students.
“Thanks to 4-H, my students are getting a holistic, interdisciplinary type of education,” Thundiyil said.
Meanwhile, the nursery at FBLG is used as a classroom to teach students about germination and how to transplant plants into either recycled containers or soil beds.
“By doing it this way, students and their parents don’t need to spend a lot of money to start something similar at home,” Thundiyil said. “On campus we take waste, such as cafeteria leftovers, paper, and other materials and mulch them to turn into compost. This is something they can also practice at home.”
Urbano said the support he receives from UOG’s 4H program provides him the tools and encouragement to continue offering these types of hands-on lessons in sustainable living — and the lessons are taking root. Urbano said that the program at his school has encouraged students to implement sustainable practices at home.
Similarly, Thundiyil’s seventh graders, including Gabriella Quintanilla and Alexa Jesus, are gaining a lot of practical knowledge that they are putting to use.
“The workshops are easy to understand, and I am learning a lot about agriculture and how to take better care of plants,” Quintanilla said. “I have been growing okra at home, and it has been a good experience.”
Jesus has also been gardening at home, thanks to the instruction provided by Thundiyil and Billimon.
“At school, we are growing papayas, bananas, and small plants, like peppers and peas,” she said. “I have a similar garden at home, and I have applied a lot of what I learned here.”