It's the halfway point of the internship experience.
Here's a quick re-cap of events:
My supervisor was traveling for a mission trip during this week, so I spent most of my time with FCS Assistants. I had the opportunity to pick and choose which programs to attend, so naturally I tagged along with anyone who would have me.
Monday began at Arlington Elementary, where we began recruiting parents to participate in our Nutrition Education Program. As the parents arrived to pick up their children we explained the program and were successful in convincing some to sign up. The FCS Assistant allowing me to shadow her is bilingual, which is fortunate as Arlington Elementary boasts a very large Hispanic population. Unfortunately, my Spanish skills are lacking, so while she was explaining the program to the parents who speak Spanish, I assisted the office staff in recording survey results. Although these surveys did not pertain to extension or our program, I was happy to busy myself with anything useful.
Later, we went to St. James Place where we talked about fruits and vegetables with the veterans. Our first activity involved naming fruits or vegetables from A-Z. We gave the soldiers a sheet with the alphabet listed and helped them brainstorm different fruits and vegetables corresponding with each letter. It was interesting to hear the ideas being shared around the room. After brainstorming we held a short lesson about the importance of fruits and vegetables in our diets, touching on vitamins, minerals and fiber. After the lesson we shared an Italian Cucumber Salad with them, and many were surprised to find they could enjoy vegetables.
The next day we ventured to William Wells Brown Elementary where we were doing a program with second graders. This was my first utterly chaotic experience in extension. To preface, it was their first day of camp, so students and counselors alike were still calculating their bearings. Although the lesson we were teaching was intended for second graders, shortly into the lesson I discovered many of the children were only five years old, while still others were claiming to be fourth graders. Due to these complications, we had some children who were bored with our activity and others who were unable to grasp the main concepts. As a result, the FCS Assistant tried to teach the lesson at different levels while I spent time on crowd control. In the end we managed to get the main points of our MyPlate lesson across to most of the students. We did our best with the situation we were given.
By the middle of the week we found ourselves back at Chrysalis House. This week we held a lesson about grains and shared whole grain pasta salad with the ladies. Many of them were surprised to discover the whole grain pasta did not taste any different than regular pasta. In the afternoon, we traveled across town to Sandersville Elementary where we assisted a 4-H Assistant in teaching a nutrition lesson about healthy snack choices. It was fun helping the kids make smoothies and assemble trail mix. They were disappointed that we encouraged them to choose dried fruits and nuts, but would not let them have as many M&Ms as they wished.
Towards the end of the week we went to Kenwick and Castlewood Camps, where we taught a lesson on exercise. I watched the FCS Assistant teach the lesson initially, but was allowed to take the lead in the latter. A few of the children were uncooperative, but most were excited to demonstrate different exercises to their classmates. We passed out jump ropes and held a jumping rope competition. Later in the day we went to Village Branch Library where we assisted teaching a lesson about fresh foods versus "fake" or processed foods. We took the children on a field trip next door to Save-a-Lot and assisted them in choosing fresh fruits for a fruit salad. We gave them a budget of $30, but only spent $21.88, or $1.45 per student. The children were really excited to learn knife safety skills and to practice cutting the fruit, which they never had the opportunity to do at home. They were surprised how cheap the fresh fruit was per person, and agreed the fresh fruit salad was much better than canned fruit salad.
This week began much the same as the week prior, with a visit to Arlington Elementary. After discussing the importance of grains and whole grains in our diets, we shared a treat of blueberry muffins and overnight oatmeal. The mothers were thrilled to have new ideas for easy breakfast recipes that might encourage their children to eat more fruits and grains. Next, we went to East 7th Street, where we held a dairy lesson with two different groups of children and shared smoothies. A few children were happy to learn they could get calcium from greens, and others were mortified when we informed them they could also find calcium in sardines! The looks on their little faces was priceless. We ended the day at St. James Place where we held yet another dairy lesson and shared smoothies. Teaching the same lesson to multiple groups throughout the day made lesson planning and shopping much easier.
The next day we went back to Kenwick where we taught a fruit lesson. We made fruit parfaits with the kids, and they were really excited to practice cutting strawberries and bananas. We anticipated having leftovers, but the kids loved the parfaits so much they went back for seconds. Later, I had another opportunity to lead a lesson, this time with preschool aged children. I read a story to them titled "How Groundhog's Garden Grew," and then shared a vegetable salad consisting of cucumbers, yellow bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes. A few of the kids loved the salad, while others refused to try it. We tried encouraging the kids to take just one bite, but they were very adamant that they did not like it.
The next morning we went to Cardinal Valley Elementary, where we repeated the "How Groundhog's Garden Grew" story. After reading the story, we shared bread and butter pickles with the children that we canned in the extension office a few weeks earlier. All of the children in this group were Hispanic, and many had never tried a pickle. We encouraged all of the children to try at least one bite in exchange for a coloring book. Only a couple of the kids really liked the pickles, and even asked for seconds, but the others weren't quite sure how they felt about them. One of the teachers told us that traditionally Hispanic families eat cucumbers alongside fruit seasoned with hot spices, such as pepper. Considering how very sweet these bread and butter pickles were, it is unsurprising the children were not thrilled about them. They did, however, enjoy the story and telling us all about their favorite vegetables.
I spent the rest of the holiday week planning for my special project!! (Stay tuned...I'll get to it!)
Beyond becoming accustomed to the ebb and flow of schedules and events in the extension office, over time I have become more confident in my own capabilities as an educator. Over the course of the summer I have slowly relaxed at the thought of speaking in front of others. I worry less about delivering a perfect speech and put more effort into engaging the audience with activities that will drive home the main concepts. Initially, teaching young children was very intimidating, but as I spend more time interacting with them I find I enjoy it more each time. It is incredible how quickly I have been able to learn and anticipate their behavior.
More than anything, I find great pleasure being in the position to introduce people to new experiences. I really enjoy taking foods to share with the children and encouraging them to try it. I take care to listen to conversations happening around me in order to gain perspective and develop ideas for future lessons. For example, at St. James Place a soldier mentioned he had never tried avocado because he generally did not enjoy green foods. The following week we brought him an avocado, taught him how to cut it, and let him try it. He loved it, so we gave him a whole avocado for his own purposes. For many people, the reason they have never tried many foods is because they do not have an expendable budget. Buying unfamiliar items is a great risk when you are working with a tight budget, especially when other (and sometimes less healthy) options are cheaper. By allowing them to try new things for free, they are encouraged to go out and buy it on their own because they already know they will like it.
It is hard to believe the summer is already halfway over. I am finally getting in the swing of things! Although I am always looking forward to what the future holds, it will be bittersweet to move on from extension. I have developed great relationships that have helped me grow in so many ways.
New employees sometimes experience an awkward transition period at the beginning of a new job. You meet a multitude of friendly faces and silently struggle to remember their names. You become preoccupied with the first impression you will make upon your new coworkers, and a constant inner dialogue of questions runs through your head.
"Am I in the way if I stand here?"
"Am I talking too loudly?"
"Did I really just do that?"
After going through the day-to-day motions a few times many of these worrisome details fall to the wayside, and you eventually establish comfortable routines and workplace relationships. Except workplace relationships in extension are closer to familial relationships, and routines in extension are basically analogous to unicorns. This week concluded my first two weeks as an intern with UK Cooperative Extension, and so far no two days have been alike. Luckily, Fayette County Extension Agents, Assistants, and Interns alike have quickly adopted me into their fun family.
Here is a quick run-down of my series of firsts:
Began bright and early at the Fayette County Extension Office. District 4 staff meeting was taking place that morning. As I watched and listened to the agents and their assistants interact with one another it was immediately clear that they are more like family than coworkers. Everyone was smiling and making jokes with one another. This impression was only reiterated when the district's director announced his retirement, and everyone in the room became teary eyed and shouted out their congratulations or thanks for his support. Many of those men and women have worked in extension for decades, and others for just a handful of years, but everyone was well affected towards him and his work.
My first trip into the community with an FCS Assistant to St. James Place Apartments. St. James Place is a part of the Foundation for Affordable Housing, Inc., a non-profit organization which houses veterans. During our meeting with the program's manager we learned about the various resources they provide for veterans, and how their efforts have helped veterans obtain job and financial security. We discussed plans for a nutrition program that would include topics such as nutrition guidelines, budgeting skills, and food safety/preparation. Later that day, we visited the Family Care Center and made plans for a similar nutrition program geared towards teenage mothers and their children. This was my first time learning about the Family Care Center and the services they provide to young mothers. I am especially interested in maternal and pediatric nutrition, so I am very much looking forward to working with this group.
My first weekend off work was well spent. In the service industry weekends off work were unheard of, so I took advantage of the Memorial Day holiday and spent time with my family in Maysville, KY. Returning to work on Tuesday provided another three days filled with firsts. I trained with the Super Star Chef team, a program designed to encourage youth to prepare their own safe, nutritious meals. We learned lessons that we will later be teaching to youth groups across the state, such as proper hand-washing, canning, knife safety, and label reading. It was my first time canning, and the bread and butter pickles we made were delicious. We also carved apples into birds, which was a really fun first experience.
At the beginning of my second week I had my first opportunity to teach. I went with my FCS Agent to Bryan Station Middle School and we taught a lesson about dairy. My mother would beg to differ, but I am honestly quite a soft spoken person and public speaking has always given me butterflies in my stomach. The 8th graders were a tough crowd at first, but as the day progressed I felt more comfortable being in front of the classroom. It was fun talking with them and helping them make homemade ice cream.
If there was one experience in the last two weeks that I had to choose as my favorite, then it would have to be teaching at the Chrysalis House, which specializes in treating substance dependent expecting mothers. Chrysalis House graduates are staying sober, earning their GEDs, and working in jobs to support their families. More importantly, they care about their families' health and were eager to learn and ask questions. I loved answering their questions. Since meeting with them my mind has been brimming with ideas.
I had another opportunity to work with youth groups, but the children were much younger this time. I had a chance to assist my supervisor in teaching a LEAP lesson. We read a story about apples and making apple pie, and then sampled different types of apples as a snack. My favorite part about teaching is making samples of food with the participants. I always thought trying new things was fun, and food can make almost anyone happy.
We rounded out the week by going to the market to pick up ingredients to use for our farmer's market recipe. This weekend we made Strawberry Salsa using local strawberries (Johnson Bros Farm), cilantro (Stonehedge Family Farm), and green onion (Smith Family Farm).
I must say, after studying at UK and working in the service industry for almost a decade, I felt confident that my knowledge of nutrition and customer service skills was enough preparation for this position. Even if I found myself in an unfamiliar situation in the beginning, I was positive that after a few days of working in extension I would be ready to tackle everything. Fortunately, the opportunity to work with extension agents has made it abundantly apparent of how little I truly know about what it takes to work in community service. Each new lesson helps me grow as both a professional and a member of the Lexington community.
A collection of stories as an intern with University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, providing community-based nutrition education services.