TUSCARAWAS TWP. – A new hands-on science class lets students at Tuslaw High School explore conservation efforts while having a little fun.
As part of a pilot program, the school has started offering a conservation science course.
“The concept is a hands-on science lesson in fish and wildlife conservation,” said high school principal Adam McKenzie. “It’s for nature lovers who like to go hunting and fishing. It made Tuslaw scream a little. It’s what our kids like.”
The program was developed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Athlete Alliance, he said.
The school recently received a $30,000 grant from the ODNR to purchase equipment for the classroom.
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ODNR Distributes $329,378 Statewide for Boating Safety
A total of $329,378 has been awarded for boating safety programs statewide by ODNR’s Parks and Boating Division. Tuslaw was one of 15 recipients. Individual grants ranged from $3,790 to $30,000. Grants can be used to purchase safety equipment.
“Safety training provided by local grant recipients reinforces our efforts to ensure Ohioans have a fun and safe boating experience,” ODNR Director Mary Mertz said in a prepared statement.
Grants are funded by Ohio boaters through the Waterways Safety Fund, which includes a portion of the state fuel tax, boat license and title fees, and funding from the Coast Guard American.
How does Tuslaw spend the money?
In Tuslaw, the money will be used to purchase 30 kayak packages, which include the kayak and safety equipment like life jackets, as well as a trailer to house and transport the kayaks.
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McKenzie explained that the ODNR provided additional funding this year for the grant to allow schools to participate. Tuslaw is one of four school systems to receive funding. It was the only entity in Stark County.
“The ODNR, especially on the boating side, wants kids to get involved in boating and fishing,” he added. “Without the grant, we couldn’t justify going out and buying $30,000 worth of kayaks.”
The school applied for further grants to help pay for other equipment, including fishing gear, and to help fund trips to local waterways.
“The concept is how can we be more responsible conservationists,” McKenzie said. “(Students) are able to go out and understand the conservation behind our natural resources and observe. How do we make bass and bluegill thrive? We’re really excited about that.”
More than 20 students are taking the course this year and about 20 students have already registered for next year, he said.
Instructor Emily O’Neil said many students in her class love the outdoors and spend time hunting and fishing. The class allows them to take something they love and bring the science around it.
Students focused on conservation efforts, as well as population management. Recently, students had to develop a way to test the strength of fishing knots.
O’Neil’s goal is to be as practical as possible. During the first year and with the restrictions related to COVID, it was difficult to leave the classroom.
Most of the work was done in class, but O’Neil said with the addition of the kayaks and other materials, the class will be able to get in the water to deepen their learning.
“I push them to learn not just how they do these things, but how they can impact their community by doing it,” she said.
“We really wanted to give our kids a chance to do something they might not get the chance to do.”
The course is currently focused on fishing, but O’Neil hopes to add the aspect of hunting, such as how to prepare food and how to attract certain species of animals.
In the classroom, students are exposed to potential career opportunities.
“We really wanted to give our kids a chance to do something they might not get the chance to do,” McKenzie explained. “We want them to see the opportunities available. There are a lot of job opportunities.”
School officials have been talking to local pond owners about partnering to allow students to use the waterways and convert them into perfect fish habitats.
Ultimately, the school would like to raise its own fish and release them into local ponds. He also wants to provide training on catch and release procedures and water quality.
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