Back to School Tips

With the school year starting, this means the busyness of afterschool activities and homework assignments will be here soon. As families are pulled in different directions for school, work and practices, time as a family comes at a premium. Making efforts to build the focus of your children could decrease time spent on homework to free up more time for family activities. Creating a permanent, designated study space is one way to build your youth’s focus. Here are a few items to keep in mind when creating the study space:

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Make It Work For You – Every child is different and has different needs. Some prefer a quiet corner in their room while others may prefer to be close to a parent for help at the kitchen table. Just make sure that the traffic and noise of other family members do not become a distraction.

Manage the Senses – Lighting and noise issues are very common distractions. Tired eyes have more difficulty transferring knowledge into memory. To keep sharp, make sure to provide adequate overhead lighting to limit squinting. Also, check that electronic devices like laptops and tablets are set at a comfortable level.

Make It Comfortable – Temperature and seating can make a difference in a youth’s ability to concentrate. Make sure that the study space keeps the child relaxed, but alert. It is also important that he or she has adequate space to spread out books, papers and materials to make the space efficient. While a bed may make a great space for spreading out, it may prove too relaxing. Consider a cushioned chair with generous table space. Also, it is important that the chair fit the youth. Dangling legs and hunched shoulders can create distractions as well.

Keep It Organized – Another way to increase the efficiency of the space is to keep all supplies and materials readily available and easy to find. Any time spent looking for the lost blue marker is time spent away from the task and an opportunity for further distraction. Organized space provides a launching pad for organized study. Keep clutter at a minimum using cubbies, canisters and boxes. A calendar, planner or to-do list can also keep homework assignments and activities prioritized and on track for on-time completion.

Limit Distractions – While the computer and television can be excellent sources of educational content, they also provide limitless distraction. If the child believes they can focus better with a little background noise, try some recorded music and save the favorite show as a reward when they can spare his or her attention.

Make It Your Own – If the child is expected to spend considerable time in the study space, let him or her decorate the space with posters, pictures or artwork. These items could provide creative inspiration for the child’s next essay or art project.

This article comes from a series of resources developed by Nebraska Extension, 4-H Youth Development Professionals. Learn more about 4-H at, follow us on Facebook at or on Twitter at For more information, contact the author – Jennifer Schoen (, Extension Educator.


Back to School – COVID Style & Impact on Mental Health

As August is on the horizon, that means kids will be going back to school and families will be settling into new routines. As a parent of two girls, I completely understand the disappointment of summer coming to a close, but also the excitement of what a new year at school will bring. The year 2020 has provided everyone with many challenges and doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon. As students and teachers prepare for the 2020-2021, things will certainly look different. Whether it is kids, teachers and staff wearing masks in the classroom or changing the way classes are done and extra sanitization, it will take a while for everyone to develop these new habits.MentalHealthSocialGraphics2

With any change, there is usually some who suffer from anxiety. I can certainly attest to the anxiety experience this spring with the uncertainty around spring/summer programming and county fair. A new survey commissioned by National 4-H Council and conducted by the Harris Poll, finds that 7 in 10 teens are struggling with their mental health in the wake of COVID-19. This survey conducted in May 2020 was among the first to examine the impact this unprecedented health crisis has had on U.S. teens. In 2019, the World Health Organization announced suicide as the third leading cause of death in teens 15 to 19. With today’s added stressors of a global pandemic, economic downturn and recent conversations on racial injustice, teens are seeking out new ways to cope.

This survey polled over 1,500 youth between 13-19 years of age from across the United States and key findings include:

  • 81% of teens say mental health is a significant issue for young people in the U.S.
  • 55% of teens say they’ve experienced anxiety, 45% excessive stress and 43% depression
  • 71% of those surveyed say school work makes them feel anxious or depressed
  • 65% say uncertainty about the future makes them feel anxious or depressed
  • Teens also reported feeling more pressured to hide their feelings rather than do drugs.
  • 67% feel pressure to keep feelings to themselves
  • 67% pretend to feel better to not worry anyone
  • 65% deal with feelings on their own

46% of teens reported social media as their most common outlet for learning about coping mechanisms for mental health and 43% follow or support someone on social media who openly talks about their mental health issues.


82% of teens are calling in America to talk more openly and honestly about mental health issues in this country. 79% of teens surveyed wish there was an inclusive environment or safe space for people in school to talk about mental health. Finally 70% wish their school taught them more about mental health and coping mechanisms.

This important information is working to be addressed by 4-H, powered by Cooperative Extension which features a community of more than 100 public universities across the nation. 4-H has helps youth develop good decision-making and strong interpersonal skills which are key to holistic well-being and aims to help young people build a firm foundation on social-emotional health.

In addition to keeping youth safe by social distancing, disinfecting, etc. it will be important for parents to consider how youth might be dealing with the pressure of catching up. Some students might have lost a lot of progress and not have had adequate support at home for a variety of reasons. The American Academy of Pediatrics also reminds parents to ensure your child has had their annual exam, is caught up on immunizations and students at a higher risk medical conditions might need to continue distance learning or have other accommodations.

With the previous statistics discussed providing youth adequate behavioral health and emotional support will be very important. Children rely on parents and trusted adults for their safety and reassure that you are there for them and your family will get through this together. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also suggests to answer questions about the pandemic simply and honestly. Talk with kids about how people are getting sick buy emphasize that hand washing, wearing a mask and limiting large crowds of people will help them stay healthy. Also recognize and acknowledge your child’s feelings. Keep in touch with friends and family; many people got very creative this spring with video chats. Also, look to the future and tell them scientists are working hard on a vaccine and ways to treat those who get ill.  The AAP suggests offering extra hugs and saying “I love you” more often.

As a parent, school administrators, teachers and staff are working hard to make the school year a positive and safe one for youth. As adults, it is important to model good behavior for your children and be flexible. Everyone is learning how to navigate through this pandemic together and remaining calm and keeping a positive is best for everyone.

For more information on strategies for returning to school during COVID-19, go to and for more information on the Harris Poll commissioned by the National 4-H Council, go to:


Programming, Youth

Collaboration and Teamwork

As we wrap up county fair related work and head back into other extension programming, I always reflect on the county fair experience. This year’s fair was definitely one that will go down in history.  This marks my fifteenth Fillmore County fair, although it definitely seemed like my first fair again. With the go and show livestock format and many modifications,  we started planning for many different versions of how the fair would look. Back in March, we weren’t even sure we’d be able to have county fairs. Then we had a virtual option and finally we were able to successfully have a face-to-face option.IMG_9669.jpeg

I’d like to give a huge “shout-out” to the Fair Boards for allowing us to have the youth component of the fair. This year, I relied heavily on 4-H Council members and superintendents to help us walk through a modified county fair to meet health department guidelines. This year’s fair went very well, mostly due to the amount of teamwork and collaboration observed. First of all, when it comes to putting together a fair, there are many small, behind the scenes tasks that occur. I’d like to give a lot of credit to the entire staff of Fillmore and Clay Counties. Weeks before the fair, data is entered into the computer system, stall assignments are created, awards ordered, reminders sent to exhibitors about completing quality assurance, registration deadlines, etc. All of this preparation allows for a much smoother fair during the actual week of fair.

Without the collaboration of staff, fair would not occur. Also, there is a lot of time spent from volunteers such as Council members and superintendents. From helping with winter weigh-ins to helping answer questions and attend meetings, volunteers are engaged year-round to make the program the best it can be.

An article adapted from Belgrad, W., Fisher, K., & Rayner, S. (1995) best summarizes that “collaboration and teamwork require a mix of interpersonal, problem-solving, and communication skills needed for a group to work together towards a common goal.” The best teams I have worked with put their own agenda aside and work towards the greater good for the team. This article also provides tips for how to develop a collaborative team environment. There are five themes that must be present.Screen Shot 2020-07-17 at 9.57.48 AM

The first is trust. Being honest with the team helps each other develop respect within a team. Give team members the benefit of the doubt and work to eliminate conflicts of interest. Secondly is to clarify roles. When teach team member knows their key roles, they are able to perform more effectively and can figure out ways to help each other. Next, it is important to communicate openly and effectively. Work to clear up misunderstandings quickly and accurately. Its best to over-communicate, rather than not communicate. Learn to be a good listener and recognize team member efforts. Fourth, is to appreciate diversity of ideas. Be open-minded and evaluate each new idea and remember that it is okay to disagree with one another, but learn how to reach consensus. Often times, much is learned from those who differ from you.  Finally, balance the team’s focus. Regularly review and evaluate effectiveness of the team. Assign team members specific tasks to evaluate and provide praise to other team members for achieving results.

I would certainly like to take some time this week to thank the entire Clay and Fillmore county staff for the hours of time spent. Without the entire staff working together, fair would be miserable.  Also, I’d like to thank the 4-H Council members who have so freely given of their time during the whole year with various tasks and take time away from their own family to help make the fair a success. Of course, livestock superintendents put in a large amount of time during the fair during check-in, the show, loading animals, etc. Special thanks to the fair board for their support of the 4-H program and the countless hours they spend setting up for events, etc. Businesses and financial donors help provide youth with incentives for their projects. There are so many other individuals and businesses who are helpful and do things without any recognition and to all of you, thank you!

I’d also like to thank everyone for allowing me the chance to be a “mom” on Fillmore County beef show day and help McKenzie get her three calves ready.  It was valuable time I was able to spend teaching her and being able to create memories. One of the best quotes someone once told me has stuck with me: “It’s better to be a part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem.” I saw a lot of sportsmanship being conducted in a positive manner this year which is refreshing at a time when so many people in our country, find things that are wrong and focus on those. Congratulations Clay and Fillmore County 4-H and FFA programs on a great county fair!

Source: Belgrad, W., Fisher, K., & Rayner, S. (1995). Tips for Teams: a Ready Reference for Solving Common Team Problems. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Programming, Youth

2020 Youth Crop Scouting Competition Virtual Competition

Nebraska Extension is pleased to present the 6th Crop Scout Design (1)annual Crop Scouting Competition for Nebraska youth. Youth interested in crops have the opportunity to learn about crop growth & development and basic crop scouting principles.

Don’t know a lot about crops?  Ask a local agronomist to assist by providing a short lesson on crop production. You can have the agronomist meet with youth a little during each meeting or outside of the meeting. This is one way to engage those youth interested in crops.

This contest will be held virtually this year on July 28, 2020. Teams of middle school thru high school students (those completing 7-12th grades) from across Nebraska are invited to participate. With the virtual option, there will be a limited space to the first ten teams who register.  Teams will compete in a fun, group online game instead of the written individual test. The scouting exercises will enable teams to work together via zoom. They will be given a scenario or task to complete and communicate their answers to the Nebraska Extension judge.

Clubs or other organizations may enter a team composed of three to five participants. An adult team leader must guide students through the process. Team leaders could be FFA advisors, crop consultants, extension staff, coop employees, etc.

Top-scoring teams win prizes: $500 for first, $250 for second, $100 for third place.   Teams are expected to know the basics of scouting corn and soybean fields. This includes crop staging; looking for patterns of crop injury; disease, insect and weed seedling identification; etc. Other topics many include but are not limited to, pesticide safety, nutrient disorders, and herbicide injury.

Two New Opportunities For Youth This Year

Free package of study materials will be mailed to each team that registers by the deadline! When teams register, we will send one package to every team sponsor that provides an address. Study materials will include

    1. Weed, Disease & insect guide
    2. Corn and soybean field guide
    3. A magnifier for your phone camera (if funding allows)
    4. Additional promotional items

We are also providing, “Office hours with an Agronomist”. Join us for several office hours with an Agronomist. Starting soon, different Nebraska Extension agronomist/specialists will share some scouting information and answer your questions. The office hours are open to all youth in grades 7-12. No registration required. A link will be posted on this webpage on the day of the office hours that will direct you to a zoom meeting to participate.

More information about the crop scouting competition and instructions on how to register a team are available online at Register at:

Teams must be registered by July 15. This program is sponsored by Nebraska Independent Crop Consultant Association and Nebraska Extension.

Programming, Youth

Fillmore County Fair Schedule

Nebraska Extension -Fillmore County staff have been working closely with the County Fair Board, local Health Department, and 4-H Council to make decisions that will best meet local needs while complying with state/regional/local guidelines and policies.  Decisions have been made keeping local, state and federal regulation and health guidelines in mind.

Nebraska Extension is operating under:

Shows are for only immediate family members/guardians of that exhibitor in attendance at the shows. All livestock shows will be available for online viewing to the best of our abilities.  Please be respectful of our youth and realize this face-to-face option will only happen with community support and being respectful of our youth and following of public health department guidelines.

Livestock shows will be streamlined through striv and can be accessed at Other updates, including the Fillmore County Static Exhibitor Showcase, livestock programs and Champions of Fillmore County video will be available on the county extension’s website and social media. Go to for all of the latest updates.

2020 Fillmore County Fair Schedule

Please be advised that all schedules and guidelines are subject to change based on local health department recommendations, etc..

Shows are for only immediate family members/guardians of that exhibitor in attendance at the shows. Wrist bands are required to enter the fairgrounds.  All livestock shows will be available for online viewing on Exeter-Milligan’s Striv channel and be accessed at

Fillmore County Static Exhibitor Showcase, livestock programs and Champions of Fillmore County video will be available on the website or Fillmore County 4-H’s Facebook page.FillmoreFairPublicSched2020


Helping Others

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One of the things I love about rural communities is the amount of help and support given when people go through difficult times. I can attest to that, on several occasions. For example, when my mom had her stroke in 2011, neighbors, coworkers and friends        stepped up to provide support, send cards and helped out when I was needing to make trips to visit her. Also in 2011, 2012 and 2014, I was laid up with ankle surgery and very blessed that many people in the community helped watch my girls, made meals for our family and showed many other acts of kindness.  A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my favorite, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Recently, I’d like to give special recognition to County 4-H Councils, 4-H superintendents, FFA advisors and county fair board/ag societies for the numerous hours spent working to allow youth to showcase their projects. I have been so amazed at the creativity, dedication and time spent to help us as Extension staff find ways youth can be celebrated. While county fairs will look different and there won’t be the opportunity to socialize as normal, I am so excited that youth will be able to compete and continue learning life skills.

A part of the 4-H pledge is to “pledge one’s hands to larger service” and “heart to greater loyalty”. These are the values we try to instill in our 4-H youth. It is great to see youth helping each other during 4-H workshops and programs and friendships being made. There is actually research that shows how helping others has benefits for themselves. A professor, Thomas G. Plante from Santa Clara University and adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University has found that his students who attend a spring break trip working with people in poor and marginalized areas managed stress better than those who did not attend trips. He believes the research finding is due to a matter of perspective. Additionally, when helping others, you generally experience more empathy, compassion and solidarity with others as well.

As we approach county fair season, it is important to remind adults, as well as youth of 4-H’s core values of helping others with our hands. It might improve their stress management abilities and make for a smoother fair for all involved. Rather than seeking out problems, remember the 4-H pledge and help others. You’ll likely be happier and create a better experience for everyone around you. So, instead of only worrying about your exhibits or animals or trying to get others in trouble, consider helping a fellow exhibitor and fill one’s bucket with water or calling that person and telling them their animal is running low on water. If an exhibitor is struggling to know where to check-in their static exhibit, offer to help them.

By practicing these small acts of kindness, you might be surprised how much less stressed you and those around you will be. I am certainly appreciative of a 4-H parent who helped my daughter last year by putting her calf in after it somehow got out of its pen. “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.”  If we practice these principles, we can make a positive difference in the lives of others.


Youth Handling Grief

Two of my colleagues provided a great article on helping youth deal with grief during these changing and challenging times so I’ve included it on this blog post.

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Could this be Grief? Loss, Disappointment, and Cancellations

Written by Dr. Holly Hatton-Bowers and Dr. Amy Napoli

Many of us have experienced major changes in our daily routines and activities.  We have experienced loss of social connections, normalcy of routine, and a sense that life is forever changed. For youth, they have experienced these changes and losses too. Abrupt school closures, not being able to participate in ceremonies and cancellations of summer camp or family vacations can bring feelings of sadness, disappointment, and frustration.

It’s important to know that youth may be experiencing grief.  According to the National Institute of Health, grief is defined as a reaction to a major loss of someone or something. It is common for young people to feel grief during this time of great uncertainty. For some, this will be their first major encounter with grief; therefore, it can be helpful to understand the experience of grief: the emotions, behaviors, and/or reactions. Grief is universal and also personal.

Grief is normal and can be shown in different ways. Some youth may withdraw and become quiet, some will cry more easily, some will be more argumentative and irritable, push people away or become clingier.  Sometimes feelings of grief will lead to physical symptoms, such headaches or stomach aches. Grief can be overwhelming, confusing, and particularly challenging during a pandemic. Furthermore, grief is cyclical in nature. Unfortunately, it is not something you experience once and then it is over.

What can caring adults do to help young people experiencing grief?   Support them by helping them identify their experience as grief.   Learning about grief can help youth understand their experience, name their experience, and give them some ideas to be in control of their feelings. It is important to remember that youth are resilient. Research finds that in difficult times and changes, having a caring and supportive adult can help young people.

Here are some ways adults can support youth:

  • Be available, present, and patient to talk about grief. Youth may not be ready to talk about their grief, loss, and disappointments right away. Be available and patient when they are ready to talk. It may take time to go through the process of grief.
  • If youth are ready to talk, simply listen. Empathize with them and actively listen through eye contact, limit interrupting, and demonstrate interests through verbal and nonverbal communication. A head nod, gentle pat on the shoulder, or saying “I appreciate you sharing this with me or I am here to listen to you, is there anything else?” are ways to show active listening.
  • Help youth understand that we all have times when we experience grief. You can say, “I understand this is difficult. You seem disappointed. It is really hard to miss out on this. Do you want to talk about it?” When you see youth are upset, it is best to first acknowledge these feelings and offer some understanding. Listen and accept their thoughts and feelings unconditionally and refrain from judgement.
  • Try not to go into a “I need to fix this” mindset. Seeing youth experience strong feelings, like disappointment and grief, can be difficult. Avoid minimizing or reassuring them that “it will be ok” or “it is fine.” These types of statements can feel dismissive. Create a safe space for youth where they can be heard.
  • Acknowledge that everyone responds to grief in different ways. Some youth may be angry, some will be stubborn, sad, or silent. These are all common ways of responding. Let youth express these strong feelings in safe ways.
  • Be a good role model. Youth observe how adults handle disappointment, frustration, sadness, and anger. When you feel upset, model mindful breathing or share your feelings with others, this shows youth it is safe and okay to feel their feelings.
  • Help youth reflect to find meaning in these experiences. It may be helpful to support them in helping others and finding gratitude. When they are ready, ask them what they are learning through this experience.
  • Find moments to laugh and express joy. Help youth understand that it is common to experience different feelings and emotions at the same

These resources can provide additional support and help:

These are difficult and painful times. Youth experiencing grief need a caring, available adult who is there to help them gain skills to be more resilient.  Learning healthy ways to cope with these difficulties and strong feelings are important lifelong skills.
More information and resources about youth social-emotional development in difficult times can be found at or by contacting your local county Nebraska Extension office.

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Crops, Programming, Youth

Youth Crop Scouting Competition

IMG_3105Looking for a fun club project? Want to unite your club members? Running out of ideas for club meetings?  If you answered, “yes” to any of these questions, help is on the way!  Nebraska Extension is pleased to present the 5th annual Crop Scouting Competition for Nebraska youth. Youth interested in crops have the opportunity to learn about crop growth & development and basic crop scouting principles.

Don’t know a lot about crops?  Ask a local agronomist to assist by providing a short lesson on crop production. You can have the agronomist meet with youth a little during each meeting or outside of the meeting. This is one way to engage those youth interested in crops.

This contest will be held at the ENREC near Mead, Nebraska on July 28, 2020, pending directive health measures at that time. If a live competition is unable to occur, a virtual option will be conducted.  Teams of middle school thru high school students (those completing 5-12th grades) from across Nebraska are invited to participate. This year, to comply with directive health measures, the event is limited to the first five teams who sign-up!

Clubs or other organizations may enter a team composed of three to five participants. An adult team leader must accompany each team of students. Team leaders could be FFA advisors, crop consultants, extension staff, coop employees, etc.

Top-scoring teams win prizes: $500 for first, $250 for second, $100 for third place. Unfortunately, there will not be a regional competition this year.

Teams will be expected to know the basics of scouting corn and soybean fields. This includes crop staging; looking for patterns of crop injury; disease, insect and weed seedling identification; etc. Other topics many include but are not limited to, pesticide safety, nutrient disorders, and herbicide injury.

More information about the crop scouting competition and instructions on how to register a team are available online at Register at:

Teams must be registered by July 15. This program is sponsored by Nebraska Independent Crop Consultant Association and Nebraska Extension.

Crops, Programming, Youth

Tractor safety course for teens

The Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, College of Public Health and Nebraska Extension have announced new plans for the tractor safety training course that was originally scheduled to be held at 12 sites across Nebraska this spring and summer. The new plans are designed to protect the health of the students and trainers during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Students will take the first day of the course online through the eXtension Foundation Campus website. After successfully completing the online course and testing, the required driving test will be offered at five locations across Nebraska July 27-31, 2020.

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Teens 14 or 15 years of age who work on farms, or others who are interested in learning about safe farming practices, are encouraged to register for the Course. Anyone under age 14 is not eligible to take the class.

Federal law prohibits children under 16 years of age from using certain equipment on a farm unless their parents or legal guardians own the farm. However, certification received through the course grants an exemption to the law allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to drive a tractor and to do field work with certain mechanized equipment.

Susan Harris, University of Nebraska Extension Educator, reports that a common cause of agricultural-related injuries and deaths in Nebraska is overturned tractors and ATVs. She emphasized that this course is designed to train students how to avoid these incidents as well as many other hazards on the farm and ranch.

The online course will cover the required elements of the National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program, including quizzes which students must pass to attend the driving portion of training. Once a student is registered, they will be sent a training manual, course paperwork and a link to the online course.

The onsite driving training and exam will include a driving test and equipment operation and ATV safety lessons. Students must demonstrate competence in hitching and unhitching equipment and driving a tractor and trailer through a standardized course. Instructors will also offer education about safe behaviors and laws for ATVs, utility-task vehicles (UTVs), and other off-road vehicles (ORVs).

In order to protect students and trainers, the number of students on site will be limited to allow proper social distancing. All students and trainers will be required to wear a mask at all times during instruction and driving. Masks will be provided along with instructions for proper use. Equipment, steering wheels, control knobs, hitches, will be disinfected before and after each student completes their testing. Students who have had a fever or persistent cough within 14 days of testing will be required to reschedule their driving test. Additional driving tests may be added in August to accommodate students who are unable to attend the 5 scheduled trainings.

Instructors for the course are members of the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health: Aaron Yoder, Ellen Duysen; UNMC graduate student Alyssa Damke; and Nebraska Extension educators Troy Ingram, Randy Saner, and John Thomas.

Cost of the modified course is $40 and includes educational materials, online learning link, and supplies. More information on the 2020 Tractor Safety Course can be found at

Driving dates, site locations, and site coordinator contact information is below:

  • July 27 – Akrs Equipment, 49110 US Hwy 20 in O’Neill, contact Debra Walnofer, 402.336.2760,
  • July 28 – Legacy of the Plains Museum, 2930 Old Oregon Trail #8500 in Gering, contact Stacy Brown, 308.632.1480,
  • July 29 – West Central Research & Extension Center, 402 West State Farm Rd., North Platte, contact
  • Randy Saner or Vicki Neidhardt 308.532.2683,
  • July 30 – Hall County Extension, 3180 W. Hwy 34, Grand Island, contact Nancy Usasz, 308.754.5422,
  • July 31 – Cass County Fairgrounds, 8420 144th St, Weeping Water, contact Sandy Prall, 402.267.2205,

For more information or to register, contact the appropriate Extension staff member above.  Visit for a registration form.