Just eight years ago, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation began the Oklahoma National Archery in Schools Program (OKNASP). Today 350 Oklahoma schools and more than 40,000 students participate in the program annually, and it is leading the way for an entire suite of outdoor education programs offered to schools by the Wildlife Department.
Wildlife Department officials say that schools across the state have been catching on to the program offerings and partnering with the Department as the programs' popularity among students, teachers and administrators has continued to mount. Officials say the programs work toward building interest in a lifetime of enjoying the outdoors.
In addition to OKNASP the suite includes the Wildlife Department's hunter education, Oklahoma Fishing in the Schools and Explore Bowhunting programs as well as a new scholastic shooting sports program. The Wildlife Department provides curriculum for all of the programs and even offers equipment grants for OKNASP (includes just over half of the $3,000 cost of the kit), Fishing in the Schools (includes $500 to cover all costs of equipment), and Explore Bowhunting (includes $2,000 to cover all costs of teaching kit, provided by the Archery Trade Association and distributed by the Wildlife Department). While all grants are obligated for the coming year, schools can still apply and be placed on a waiting list. Potential sponsors can fund a local school of their choice as well by calling Colin Berg, education supervisor for the Wildlife Department, at (918) 299-6711.
"The Oklahoma National Archery in Schools Program was the spark that has led to these additional programs being offered to schools," Berg said. "It was 'true to its mark' with administrators, teachers and students and is now in 350 schools across the state. Over the last three years, we have continued to add these additional programs to the list of offerings we have available for schools."
Many schools are now offering all of the programs available in the suite.
Students who participate in OKNASP learn the fundamentals of basic target archery, but what really strikes a chord with every student is success they experience when their arrow thuds against the target for the very first time.
"That initial success clicks with a lot of students and drives them to succeed time and again, not only in archery but other classes," said Berg.
According to Berg, word-of-mouth has been an important tool in marketing OKNASP among participating schools.
"Teachers and administrators of active schools became our target to pass on training opportunities to neighboring schools," Berg said. "Our courses filled up on their own, and we no longer had to sell the program. The program was selling itself due to the success that teachers and administrators saw their students experiencing. We followed that marketing model as we added programs."
OKNASP is still the first step in bringing the education program suite into a school. Out of the 350 schools involved in OKNASP this year, more than 200 of them are teaching hunter education; 200 are also teaching Explore Bowhunting, designed to take archery a step further by applying it to wildlife conservation; 200 Oklahoma Fishing in the schools, which introduces students to the angling tradition; and 20 of these will be piloting the Department's scholastic shooting sports program that will introduce basic shotgun and firearms handling skills and competition.
According to Berg, the programs are about building success and developing an appreciation for and understanding of sound wildlife conservation.
"These programs spend a significant amount of time on wildlife conservation, survival skills, importance of firearms safety and ethics, and how to get close to nature," Berg said. And the Fishing in Schools Program covers a number of topics besides how to cast or catch a fish, such as the importance of good water quality, fisheries management and conservation as well as water safety. These are important topics that every Oklahoman should understand."
"Everyone's first thought is that this is something just rural schools are involved with," Berg said. "But Jenks, Owasso, Oklahoma City, Yukon, Bethany, Lawton, Broken Arrow, Enid and other large school districts are involved in these programs as well as a lot of smaller districts."
Berg said it is important for schools to take a hard look at the Department's suite of education programs to see just what they offer in educating well-rounded, conservation-minded students.
"Lots of kids today are connecting with the outdoors due to these programs being offered at their school," Berg said.
The first step for schools wanting to become involved in the Wildlife Department's outdoor education programs is to contact Justin Marschall, OKNASP coordinator for the Department, at (405) 522-1857. Once a school has a teacher trained in OKNASP, they qualify for the partial equipment grant from the Department, and by actually participating in OKNASP, they receive invitations to free training workshops for the other programs.
The Department's OKNASP Facebook page can be found at facebook.com/oknasp, and the Wildlife Department's website can be found at wildlifedepartment.com.