MARIETTA — Getting young people disconnected from electronic devices can be challenging nowadays, but South Carolina 4-H offers a solution by getting them connected with the state’s scenic waterways instead.

A youth education program that has been held annually across South Carolina for more than 12 years, 4-H2O is a water-based science camp that allows students an opportunity to learn and experience the state’s water resources first-hand.

One such camp, Wet and Wild Outdoor Summer Camp, was held in late July and early August at Pleasant Ridge Park in Marietta through a partnership between Greenville County 4-H and the Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District.

After a morning of exploring the park’s streams and ponds, one 9-year-old camper named Emma said her day had consisted of looking for animals and learning how to determine if the water was clean or polluted.

“I sometimes am actually attached to my device, but when I come here I just have way more fun here than on my device,” she said. “It’s really fun. I can have free time. You’re free to be who you are.”

Greenville County 4-H Agent Patricia Whitener said Wet and Wild Camp uses the 4-H model of experiential-based learning to teach the campers scientific concepts while exploring the park’s woods, waters and trails.

“We don’t just talk about things that you might find in a stream or in a pond, we actually go out and find those critters,” Whitener said. “We ID them. We talk about collection protocols. We actually turn them into biological scientists, stream ecologist, foresters; we turn them into conservation stewards for the week. They actually get to collect data, and they just think it’s fun. They don’t even realize that they’re learning some pretty serious scientific concepts, especially for their age group.”

4-H agent discusses science with campers

Greenville County 4-H Agent Patricia Whitener discusses the difference between streams and ponds and factors that contribute to each being healthy ecosystems with Wet and Wild campers at Pleasant Ridge Park in Marietta.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

The camp is for kids ages 6 through 14, with teenage 4-H members serving as junior counselors and Clemson University students serving as counselors to help share environmental science and learning experiences with kids from all over Greenville County.

Clemson senior agribusiness major Maxie Allen said the scientific knowledge is similar to what kids might learn in traditional classroom lessons, but with a hands-on approach that allows them to experience the concepts in nature for themselves.

“I can personally say that the kids love it way more than actually just listening to somebody read it out of a book,” said Allen, an intern with Greenville County 4-H. “Like today, we were down in the streams and the pond, talking about the ecosystems and what different kinds of creatures live in there. We were looking for invertebrates today. But it’s everything nature-wise, outdoors and letting the kids see it where it actually lives instead of having to see it under a microscope or something like that.”

The hands-on science inquiry program provides children and adults with knowledge about their local water resources and teaches them the field, analytical and critical thinking skills they need to intelligently participate in making decisions that affect the quality of these aquatic systems.

Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District community relations coordinator Shelby Cohen also stressed that the camp focuses on getting kids disconnected from technology and more connected with the natural resources that affect communities on a daily basis.

“That’s really the goal of our camp: When they leave at the end of the week, they have a deeper understanding for how precious that water is that comes out of their faucet, how precious those lights are that they’re able to just flick on — all of those natural resources that really we take for granted because our lives are a lot easier than they’ve ever been before,” Cohen said. “We’re just here to connect them to nature and give them the opportunity to learn about what’s right in their backyards.”

The youth development arm of Clemson Cooperative Extension, South Carolina 4-H uses a learn-by-doing approach, the involvement of caring adults and the knowledge and resources of Clemson University and the land grant university system to empower youth to become healthy, productive and contributing members of society.

Shelby Cohen speaks to campers

Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District community relations coordinator Shelby Cohen explains watersheds and their impact on Greenville County to campers.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Cohen said Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District’s “wonderful” relationship with Clemson Extension allowed them to share resources that made programs such as the Wet and Wild Outdoor Summer Camp possible.

“4-H is an incredible program because not every kid we come in contact with is going to have these values instilled in them at home or even in school,” she said. “Because of 4-H, they’re getting an opportunity to learn and interact with professionals, and maybe that also triggers something where when it’s time for them to go to college, they have a new idea of something they can major that they would have never even thought of had it not been for 4-H.”

In addition to the hands-on learning about ecosystems and natural resources, Whitener said the camps also exposed young people to potential careers they may wish to pursue.

“We’re broadening their horizons to let them know that if you’re interested in natural resources, there’s many job tracks that you can go into, or if you’re interested in working with kids in a camp experience, there’s many pathways that Clemson University can help you follow in that way,” she said. “I think it really is the best of what Extension is: We are taking all of that top-notch science and research that you can find at Clemson University, and we’re putting it into the hands of our future.”

And campers such as Emma, who admitted she was initially wary of such an outdoor summer camp experience because of the heat, humidity, ticks and mosquitos, said she quickly got over those concerns.

This summer, she returned to the Wet and Wild Summer Camp for the fourth straight year.

“I can’t explain what Miss Patricia and Shelby do for us that is so fun,” Emma said. “They provide a really good opportunity for us, and nobody else can replace that opportunity for me. Nobody.”