Eleven instructors and one junior instructor have been trained for the Southeast Island School district's new program in early November. Much of Southeast was involved in the three day intensive training put on by 4-H and the National Rifle Association. The people who trained the instructors for the program came from all over Alaska, including Bruce Bowler from Juneau, Steve Kovach from McGrath, John Stevens from Thorne Bay, the 4-H director of Alaska Peter Stortz from Palmer and the 4-H shooting sports director Janet Athanas from Barrow.
The schools are now in the process of putting all the policies in order. The PEP (Palm Education Pioneer) Grant has in part made this program possible as well as a new archery program at all schools in the district, which includes Correspondence, Hollis, Howard Valentine, Hyder, Kassan, Naukati, Port Alexander, Port Protection and Thorne Bay.
The main goal of the grant as stated on their website is: to offer and expand a developmentally appropriate variety of PE and life-fitness education activities that use the local environments, incorporate cross-curricular opportunities, build lifelong fitness skills, and develop recreational interest.
The PEP grant coordinator Liz Mozenthin expressed her excitement for this program which has been about a year in the making and the new opportunity for the students. "This program will give knowledge, teach skills, and cultivate the right attitude for handling rifles properly, which is a big part of living in Southeast Alaska."
At least five of the nine schools in the district will participate. Training for Port Alexander and Hyder was cancelled due to weather; however three district at large employees were trained to become certified NRA and 4-H shooting sport rifle instructors as well and may be able to help at these locations. Due to the schools small sizes and remoteness it is not ideal for these schools to have traditional large team sports. Mozenthin notes, "There aren't enough students for traditional team sports like basketball. With a sport like this we can have postal matches, can even scan and email targets back and forth between schools. This will allow students to succeed, and since they aren't competing against other schools but within their own school district they can strive for personal bests as well as meet others in the program."
There are also many opportunities for scholarships within the sport. Other schools around the state of Alaska such as in Fairbanks have competitions in marksmanship on the collegiate level. Though this program is starting out as an afterschool 4-H program at the SISD schools, they hope NRA certified competitions will arise.
In the afterschool program they will be using the Daisy Model .177 caliber air rifles also known as the Daisy Model 753 pellet rifles for use in competition. First and foremost gun safety will be practiced with all ages and students starting in the third grade will be allowed to compete.
In regards to offering non-traditional sports Mozenthin said, "We might not reach these students in the way we can reach them in a program like this. It also gives them one more chance to come into contact with caring adults. It will give kids motivation to attend school regularly and achieve self-set goals. I'm really excited about it and I know the kids are going to be too," she paused and then added, "Who knows, an Olympic shooter might emerge out of this program, there are many opportunities for students competing in Alaska."
The rifle sports program is one that will benefit the participating students for a long time. Nancy Huff, an instructor for the program said, "We're hoping to give the students skills they can take into their adult life. A Lot of people here live on subsistence. We want to give them pride in accomplishing goals and have them learn what a structured competition is. They can definitely take these skills into adulthood."
The Southeast Island schools have many great programs geared for positive learning and interacting with the outdoor world, such as kayaking, biking, snowshoeing and climbing. To learn more about their new after school rifle program or their Archery in the Schools program visit their website at www.sisdschools.org and choose programs and then PEP.