Steve Henry teaches technology engineering to seventh and eighth graders at Taft Middle School in Oklahoma City. He also teaches them archery, hunter education, bowhunting and will add fishing this fall.
“I've got a lot of kids that don't have a typical nuclear family,” Henry said. “A lot of them don't have a man in their lives to expose them to something like this. They are getting the opportunity to do something they normally couldn't do.”
Hunting and fishing are part of the school curriculum in classrooms across Oklahoma and not just in places like Eagletown, where bagging a big buck earns a kid as much praise as sinking a game-winning basket.
Edmond, Oklahoma City, Mustang, Western Heights and Yukon are just some of the places where fourth graders to seniors are learning about archery, bowhunting and fishing.
Eight years ago the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation started a pilot program for archery in eight schools. It was so popular that 350 schools are now participating. There is a state championship shoot held each spring in Oklahoma City.
“The kids loved the archery program so much the teachers were always asking us, ‘What else have you got?'” said Colin Berg of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
That success opened the door for the Wildlife Department to train instructors and provide the equipment necessary to teach hunter education, bowhunting and now fishing in the public schools.
Last year the Wildlife Department introduced fishing at 40 pilot schools already participating in the other programs. Another 100 schools are adding fishing classes this school year.
“We spend half a day training the teachers to teach fish identification, knot tying, ethics, conservation, etc.,” Berg said. “Once the teachers complete the training their school is eligible for an equipment kit.
“Its total value is just under $500 and all it costs the school is a day's time for the teacher to be trained. We go over different games they can play with the students and give them an opportunity to go fishing.”
The Wildlife Department also is planning a pilot program for the shotgun sports separate from the FFA shooting programs that already exist.
It's not just rural Oklahoma schools using the Wildlife Department's curriculum. Berg said 40 percent of the schools are from urban areas. The courses are taught in elementary, middle and high school by teachers from various fields.
“It just depends on the school system,” Berg said. “Most of the time they are taught by physical education or FFA instructors.”
Henry was math instructor when he first introduced his students to archery.
“The kids loved it so I just kept doing it,” he said.
His wife, Cindy, teaches the same courses at Harding Charter Academy in Oklahoma City.
For the Wildlife Department, exposing kids to hunting and fishing is an attempt to ensure future generations of sportsmen.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation doesn't receive a financial appropriation from the state of Oklahoma like other state agencies. The Wildlife Department is funded almost entirely by sale of hunting and fishing licenses.
“Hunters and fishermen pay for wildlife management in Oklahoma,” Berg said.
This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the federal Wildlife Restoration Program, which provides an excise tax on fishing tackle, firearms and ammunition, archery and motorboat fuels. The money from that tax is used to fund wildlife conservation in every state.
“If we don't have hunters and fishermen in the future, we may not have wildlife in the future,” Berg said.
Students at Taft are not thinking about the future. The school year is just a few days old and Henry's students already want to know when they are going to get to pull the string on a bow.
“The things we are teaching them are things they can do for the rest of their lives,” Henry said.