Obviously children are the future of everything, and the case is made frequently by those who promote outdoors sports like hunting and fishing. Less than a century ago, kids spending time trying to catch or kill a meal for the family would have been common.
“We want kids to discover and learn outside as much as possible,” Conrad Mallady told the teachers who attended the Discover Nature Fishing workshop he coordinated at Hillsboro High School earlier this month. “I want you to go back to your schools and tell other teachers about the programs we have available. I’ll do as many of these workshops as I can to get this into schools.”
The state Department of Conservation has offered Discover Nature Fishing as a community program for years, but the effort to get it added to school curricula is new, Mallady said. The success of the National Archery in Schools Program provides a positive blueprint.
Jessika Jacaty, the Agriculture Program coordinator at Hillsboro, invited Mallady to hold the workshop at the district’s barn and lake. After an introduction and review of the lesson plans, the teachers at the workshop put the elements of the education into action at the lake.
Four basic lessons teach how to cast and handle fishing equipment, tying knots and baiting hooks, fish habitat, and lures and regulations. Teachers who complete the workshop are eligible for a long-term loan agreement that provides rods, reels and other tackle. Transportation grant funding is also available to cover the cost of fishing field trips.
“We buy the stuff and you get to use it,” Mallady said. The education component becomes the responsibility of the teachers. “I’m not going to talk about everything that is in the teacher’s book. You are the professionals and you can go do what you do best.”
Mallady brings plenty of his own experience to the workshop. He has worked for the conservation department for 31 years with his first job in 1990 in Montauk Trout Park.
“It was fun working with and learning about the trout,” he said. “I also got to do a lot of mowing and weed-eating.”
The next year he was accepted into the conservation agent academy through the State Highway Patrol and served as an agent for 10 years before moving to the education division. Now serving as a conservation educator, he is also hopeful to get the hunter education certification program into the schools where possible.
“With the challenges of COVID we are seeing a lot smaller and fewer classes,” Mallady said. “Where we have been able to get into the schools, we are finding it very successful and the teachers are enjoying it.”
The only requirement to attend a Discover Nature Fishing workshop is a fishing license for teachers under age 65. To be certified to teach hunter education, teachers and volunteers have to complete the student course themselves first.
“The hunter education program has been strong since 1988 when it became mandatory. It used to be two or three days of lecture with 10 or 12 hours of classroom time,” Mallady said. “Now its half home study and half skill session.”
Teachers can also find other resources to introduce outdoors, ecology and conservation education to their classrooms through an online portal at mdc.mo.gov. After creating an account, teachers can access free materials.
“Outdoor time can be healing and can be healthy. That’s what our curriculum is all about,” Mallady said. “The goal of Discover Nature Fishing is to help kids and their families gain the skills they need to continue fishing on their own for the rest of their lives.”
To find out about bringing the workshop to your school, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published by Leader Publications Dec. 23, 2021.