New 4-H project collaboration uses ticks to teach kids about ecosystems and public health
University of Maine Cooperative Extension recently launched its new 4-H Tick Project, a community science program where youth collect, identify and learn about ticks while contributing to university research.
The project provides children and teenagers an opportunity to explore ticks and tick-borne diseases and understand the connections between climate, ecosystem change and public health. Led by 4-H professionals in Hancock County, the program is open to K–12 youth across the state.
Registration is rolling and will be open for the next several months. Currently, nearly 1,400 youth in 11 counties are involved in the program, with 24 educators leading projects. These are a mix of formal classroom teachers, 4-H volunteers, informal educators (such as land trust staff and camp counselors) and homeschool parents/educators.
Project-based learning initiatives like the 4-H Tick Project allow youth to build knowledge and skills through active, hands-on participation. This experiential learning approach promotes a deep understanding of the subject matter and helps develop practical skills that can be transferred to other areas of life.
“A ‘learning by doing’ philosophy is at the heart of all 4-H projects,” says Carla Scocchi, 4-H professional and project lead. “Authentic learning happens when we connect kids with a real-world project that is meaningful for them and their communities.”
“Doing the tick project made me feel more comfortable going outside and safe in my yard. Now I know which ticks can be really bad, and I can identify them,” says Alexis M., Hancock County 4-H member.
Youth involved in the project collect tick specimens in their local area and submit them to the UMaine Extension Tick Lab for identification and disease testing.
“By engaging youth participants in tick collection and identification, we are able to gather valuable data that helps us better understand tick populations and the distribution of their associated pathogens,” says Tick Lab Coordinator Griffin Dill.
Data collected also contributes to the Maine Forest Tick Survey, a multiyear, multidisciplinary research project led by faculty in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture to determine how forest land management practices impact tick populations and disease risk across the state.
The project is a collaborative effort with 4-H, the UMaine Extension Tick Lab, the Maine Forestry Tick Survey and Learning Ecosystems Northeast, a NASA-sponsored partnership focused on building the climate and data literacy youth need to become the next generation of climate stewards.
“This is a wonderful example of collaboration across the university and beyond,” says Hannah Carter, associate provost of online and continuing education and dean of UMaine Extension. “Through these partnerships, we can engage more students in a broader learning community where they can connect with diverse perspectives and build the skills needed to become tomorrow’s leaders.”