There is a new look—and sound--to gym class. Traditional fitness, health and recreation still anchor today’s physical education curriculum. Stroll past the gym on a winter day, though, and you may notice a line of archers and hear the soft ‘thunks’ of field points hitting large target circles.
“I learned this in summer camp. It was fun; so I was pretty excited when (my instructor) said we were going to do archery in gym class,” admitted Sharon Amouzou, after her turn at the line at Northwest junior high school in Coralville. “I would like to use it one day. It seems really fun. I don’t know.”
Across Iowa, more than 100 schools take part in the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP). Certified instructors work with phys ed instructors from the participating schools to introduce a standards based curriculum which schools demand; tailored for elementary, middle or high school. A grant through the Department of Natural Resources provides the gear for successful applicants.
Naturalist Brad Friedhof, from the Johnson County Conservation Department, rotates between two middle schools in the Iowa City school district. This winter, 640 7th and 8th graders get their shot.
However, before students ever nock an arrow…they learn about the history of archery, how to stay safe and the progression up to arrow release and follow through.
“The big one is their stance; getting that down,” lists Northwest teacher Jeff Kuepker. “(Also) on the first day, we have them determine left eye or right eye dominance. That can be a little rough; if you’re right handed and you have to shoot left handed. You’re uncomfortable at first, but that’s what is great about this unit. You get proficient at it; and you’re proud.”
On the second of five contact days at Northwest, 7th and 8th graders went through a short review, then stepped to the line for their first shots. In each line of eight or 10 kids, a couple struggled to achieve much drawstring pull. Others seemed comfortable bringing the three-finger grip back to the anchor point; before relaxing that grip and holding steady as the shaft cleared the brightly colored bow.
A few went wide into the backstop net. A couple clattered across the floor. But most found the big round field target, 15 yards away. “I did better on my second try…cuz I had a better stance,” reported Anna Jacoby. “I was kind of surprised. I didn’t think I would do very well.”
Allyson Greasland buried all three arrows in the target. “Really smooth. I liked the pulley mechanism (on the compound bows),” she reported. “It was easy to shoot. Like, how the bow (string) hits your arm sometimes? This one didn’t.”
“Because you learned the correct way to hold it?” she was asked. Making the connection, Allyson smiled and nodded…a learning moment.
While other schools offer introductory archery, too; a shortage of people keeps it from expanding.
“This (two school rotation) is all I have time for,” explains Friedhof. “With the different classes, I’ll be here across 20 days.”
Even by the second time the kids stepped to the line, you could see the improvement.
“When the arrow flew straight through…it was kind of a stress release,” offered Breanna Bradshaw. “It just felt good…I thought it was really fun.”
“It’s concentration and focus,” notes Kuepker. “What is nice about archery is; a lot of our students who excel in archery aren’t our most athletic students. They have some success and it is good to see that. They feel real good about themselves.”
For some, the gym class instruction turns into a winter league, maybe even participation in the annual high school championship. Formation of an archery club depends on student interest, of course; but also with a few adults as coaches or sponsors. More than 1,500 kids took part in the December to February league. More than 800 of them, from 24 schools, will be in Des Moines, March 2 for the state shoot.
A lot of these young archers-for-a-week may never pick up a bow again. For some, it may open the door to bowhunting…or competition archery. It is an Olympic sport. In any case, it is a life skill they might chase well into adulthood; long after they have given up noon hour basketball or over-40 softball leagues. “The kids have a lot of fun with it. It encourages them,” emphasizes Kuepker.
For more information, go to www.iowadnr.gov
and enter: National Archery in Schools Program, in the search window.