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DALTON, Ga. - Fifth-grader Chandler Kinser carefully counted her dollars after doing a little shopping.

She had a choice of pencils, toys, school supplies, chips and candy, among other selections, but she wasn't in a store. And she didn't spend real dollars.

The 10-year-old student at Brookwood Elementary School used some of her clover dollars, which she earned by doing her homework and participating in her 4-H class, which focused on agriscience.

"It's awesome," Chandler says, wearing her "Project Achievement" green clover pin. "You get to go and do projects and different things. I've learned about inherited (plant) traits and germs."

Whitfield County 4-H is a youth development program aimed at fifth through 12th graders and focused on leadership skills and a healthy lifestyle, said Kandace Edwards, coordinator and 4-H agent.

"We focus on giving an opportunity to kids to be more successful," she said. "Mastery, generosity, independence and a sense of belonging, those are essential elements to youth development."

Although classes are over, 4-H coordinators said they are getting ready to start their summer day camp activities in the first week in June. Those activities range from horseback riding to a field trip to Fort Mountain Park.

Nationwide, there are more than 6 million youth participating in 4-H programs in more than 3,000 counties, according to the National 4-H Web site. More than 900 take part in Whitfield County.

In the county, Ms. Edwards and three assistants visit about 13 schools in the Dalton and Whitfield County school districts, where they do in-school programs such as the fifth-grade class at Brookwood.

"I think it's a great program, it hits a lot of our standards. They come and do different lessons with our kids and have speakers from the community," said fifth-grade teacher Tiffany Thompson.

"But what I really like about it is the social (and speaking) skills they develop. They get to do things we normally don't do during class, more hands-on projects," she said.

Lilian Sanchez, an eight-grade student at New Hope Middle School, said the program has helped her improve in many different ways.

"I've been in 4-H since I was a 5th grader, and I've gotten to know all the people very well. We treat each other like family," said the 14-year-old, who also is the secretary of the program.

"It has helped me with leadership skills," she said. "If it wasn't for the program, I wouldn't be able to talk in front of people. I had always looked for ways to help people, and in 4-H they give you a lot of opportunities to do that. It helps you grow as a person."

Middle and high school students also attend club meetings at the 4-H office in Dalton and participate in competitions and summits out of town.

"We try to work with teachers as much as possible and respect the fact that they are giving up their time to let our curriculum in," Ms. Edwards said.

Everything included in the curriculum is based on Georgia Performance Standards, she said.

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