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Justin Kinney, physical education and health instructor at Ridge View High School in Holstein, is the 2016 recipient of the Brass Bluegill award from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Fish Iowa! program.
Kinney first learned about Fish Iowa! from the elementary physical education teacher. Kinney, Matt Best, and elementary principal Mike Richard were trained in April of 2015 and integrated fishing instruction into both the fifth grade PE and high school general PE classes that spring. High school students learned the basics then headed to local ponds for practice. Their final outing was at Crawford Creek and involved fishing and a picnic with fifth grade students, who had also been learning basics in their PE classes. About 80 high school students served as mentors to some 50 fifth graders.
Kinney, Best, and Richard attended more Fish Iowa! training in June 2015 and discussed options to expand their efforts. Besides fine tuning the basic fishing program, Kinney developed an additional course that encompasses a host of “Outdoor Education” components. The new course includes fishing, trapping, outdoor cooking, shooting, tomahawking, hunter safety, survival skills, orienteering, camping and more. It provides a host of hands-on opportunities that extend the basic introductory unit provided through general physical education courses. Each trimester-long class will accommodate 15 -20 students; 45 - 60 seniors will participate this year. The course will culminate in a trip to the Boundary Waters.
Kinney describes support for the new class as “mind blowing,” from Principal Richard to the superintendent, to the Board of Education, to parents and the community overall. He received a grant from the Ida County Community Betterment Foundation, but individuals, businesses and organizations have also given equipment, services and money - one parent donated $1,000; a business provided eight rifles at cost; and donations keep coming. Kinney credits the outpouring to an overall desire to help students “unplug” from technology.
Kinney grew up near the Mississippi River by St. Louis “doing all things outdoors” with his family and friends, but for him it is not about the skills. The outdoors provides a venue where people can connect.
“It’s really not about the fishing or other outdoor activities – it’s about the relationships. Relationships we build with our students. Relationships they build with each other,” Kinney said. “And hopefully, someday relationships they will build with the next generation through outdoor activities. Relationships are the key to successful students becoming men and women of character. That’s what we try to build here at Ridge View.”
As an administrator (and avid outdoorsman), Richard says the program has been easy to support because Mr. Kinney brings his "passion to the table" and his enthusiasm for the outdoors is contagious. “Students experience fun hands-on learning activities related to the outdoors that they can enjoy the rest of their lives,” Richard added. “The extended benefit is a generation that cares about the great land and water resources we have in Iowa.” He describes his experience watching high school students mentor fifth graders, “One boy was smiling ear to ear as his mentor helped him catch his first fish, a bluegill. Like Mr. Kinney said, it truly is all about relationships.”
Kinney created a Facebook® page (https://www.facebook.com/RidgeViewOutdoorEducation) to share student experiences with the community. Other teachers have been inspired by the success at Ridge View schools and are looking to create similar efforts. Kinney will present the program’s status and what they have learned at the Iowa Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (IAHPERD) annual conference in June.
Kinney was presented his award at the Natural Resources Commission Meeting in Otho on June 9. Richard and Best were also recognized for their role in establishing and supporting the program at the elementary level.
The Brass Bluegill award has been presented each year since 1996 to an instructor who has established an outstanding local program that exemplifies the goals of Fish Iowa!