A steady thud can be heard in the Wauwatosa East and West high school gyms. The sound isn't from thrown balls or running feet, but arrows hitting practice targets.
Students are practicing archery — one of the programs in the new class, Adventure Pursuits. The program takes a physical education credit, but isn't designed to get students physically active now. Instead, it's purpose is to engage students in activities that will keep them active throughout the rest of their lives.
On this year's agenda: rock climbing, disc golfing, fishing, camping, kayaking, snorkeling and archery.
Learning life skills
Teri Kandel, who teaches the class at East, said many students were too laden with after school activities, homework, clubs and sports to have time to camp or hike. The class' purpose, she said, is to "(Give) them enough exposure to pique their interest and enough basic skills that they can feel confident in doing it."
Many of the skills taught are ones she noticed her own children, both high school age, lacking. In the first few weeks of the course, the students were taught how to read a compass and follow written navigation directions. The two classes built obstacle courses for each other, complete with written directions using paces as navigation measurements.
Another class lesson: navigate between two cities without a smart phone or GPS. Students learned how to read road maps and write directions.
The students also learned not only how to put up and properly take down tents, but what locations make good camp sites. Students were taught how to cook their own campfire fare, creating their own recipes. Each student group made their meals from scratch, using pots, pans and utensils brought from home.
One group made scrambled eggs and sliced hot dogs in a tortilla wrap with honey.
They'll be learning another hands-on camping skill later this summer. According to Kandel, Superintendent Phil Ertl is scheduled to stop by and deliver a special session.
He'll teach students how to fillet a fish.
They'll also learn how to bait lures, cast lines and do everything fishing related except pulling the hooks out of fishes mouths.
"I'd love to put a couple of fish in the pool and have them catch them," Kandel joked, "But I don't think that will work."
Students will use the pool to learn how to kayak and snorkel, however. They'll be grabbing weights from the bottom of the pool in the snorkeling unit and paddling about for the kayaking.
Lessons in leadership
Many activities are centered around building group trust and leadership, according to Kandel.
She had students learn disc golf, for instance, before rock climbing or the other programs where there was a safety concern. She went straight from the disc golf into group activities. First she laid out a series of group tasks to help them work together, then she had them create their own tasks to work through.
Junior Will Gorepki's group had one leader navigate a group of blindfolded students through an obstacle course without using any words. They had to recognize certain noises and calls to make it through.
For Will, many of the outdoors-oriented classes were a rehashing of what he learned in the Boy Scouts. The leadership courses, however, "Shows how you can work as a team to get things done and if you don't know how to do one thing or know how to do another, you can work with someone else to get it done."
Will's classmate, sophomore Ashley Wurster, is in the same boat. She knows her way around camping courtesy of the Girl Scouts, but was able to make many friends through the leadership courses.
If Kandel could add anything to the class, she would want to take the students on an actual camping trip. She's mulled over the idea of teaching the students cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, but said scheduling around snowfalls was too unpredictable to make the investment worthwhile.
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