The school year is well underway and hundreds of 4-H kids are working on projects to take to county fairs later this summer.
It will take hundreds of judges to evaluate thousands of entries, and this month 4-H officials finished training for new judges. Fort Dodge was one of the three cities offering training this year, up from only one last year.
Phil Heckman is a 4-H regional program specialist who works at the state level and is one of the training session leaders. Heckman says the most important part of judging is asking the children to explain what they’re learning. “The questions are designed basically to start the conversation,” says Heckman. “Get them talking about what their processes were for that specific exhibit and then to apply that to real life situations. And in 4-H we say that all the time do, reflect, apply.”
As part of the training, 4-H kids like 8th grader Anna Lewandoski show up with items they’ve exhibited in the past to provide one on one practice sessions for new judges. Anna has been exhibiting since 5th grade, and says it’s common for a judge to provide constructive feedback when the project isn’t working. “This year, I showed, it was like melted crayon art, and they told me what I did wrong and they did it really nice, and now I know next year what to do.”
Cindy Arbogast is in her late 50's and has three grown children. She is working with Anna in a mock evaluation. Arbogast says she wants to be a judge because years ago her youngest daughter benefited from this kind of experience. “When they do conference judging, like they do at all the county fairs in Iowa, they have that opportunity to have kinda like an interview, which prepares kids for any type of job that they have to interview for.”
Arbogast says she would’ve encouraged her older children to participate in 4-H had she known the program is about more than agriculture. 4-H has been around for 100 years, and for much of its history the focus has been on farm life, but Phil Heckman says as kids change, so does the program. “If a young person comes in to me and they’re excited about raising a sheep, I want to talk to them about raising a sheep. If they come in and they’re excited about talking to me about their new app they’ve created and you know it’s gonna change the world, that’s where I want to meet those kids is where their interests are and where they’re excited about learning.”
A judge may be assigned to work in any of Iowa’s 99 counties, and Heckman says 4-H staff members will start placing potential judges this winter. “I probably shouldn’t tell, but I’m gonna anyway. Because so many of them tend to be school teachers, if you pick up the phone and start calling for judges on a snow day, that’s a pretty good day to line up your judges.”
Cindy Arbogast is looking forward to getting her call. She says she likes going to county fairs and this summer will be special. “Not just to go be a visitor but to be a part of it, I think would be a lot of fun and judging is definitely gonna get me there.”
This summer 4-H will have 1,712 judges available to work at county fairs, 87 of which happen during the month of July.