As an elementary school physical education teacher, Brooke Elder works with students who have vastly different athletic abilities. But when she started teaching archery to 4th and 5th graders she was surprised by what she saw.
All the kids, no matter their physical prowess, were excited to pick up the bow and shoot an arrow at a target.
“I call it the ‘great leveler’,” said Elder, who teaches at Dolores Elementary School in southwest Colorado. “I just love that students don’t need to be the star athlete to excel at this sport. Some kids have even told me that they never thought of themselves as an athlete until they learned the sport of archery through this program.”
The P.E. offering was brought to Colorado by the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) about 15 years ago. Colorado Parks and Wildlife coordinates the program and about 400 schools in the state now participate.
Sisters Nevayah and Bella Stiegelmeyer, 5th graders at Dolores Elementary, are barely four-feet tall, but they confidently handle the bows.
“Sometimes I get anxious and miss the target,” Bella said. “But it’s just fun to shoot and to go outside and shoot.”
The class even convinced the sisters to take CPW’s hunter education class with the hope of going hunting with their Dad sometime.
NASP partners with sporting goods companies to get discounts on equipment and also provides CPW with a grant of $10,000 annually. In turn, CPW offers $3,000 grants to schools to buy the gear. Equipment include bows, arrows, racks, targets and safety back-drops. NASP has also developed a curriculum to train teachers. CPW provides the training at no charge and teachers must be certified before they can offer classes at their schools.
To make sure the program continues, CPW also provides a 50-50 matching maintenance grant for schools that need to replace equipment.
Besides teaching proper shooting technique, safety is a top priority for teachers. Students are taught how to pick up and handle the bows and how to load arrows properly. During class, teachers use a series of whistles that tell students when to pick up bows and go to the shooting line, when to pick up the first arrow and when to start shooting. NASP’s program describes an 11-step shooting process that teachers and students follow.
Elder addresses safety throughout her classes. “If you’re a safe shooter and you don’t hit the target, that’s OK,” she told the students.
The students’ enthusiasm for archery doesn’t seem to wane, Elder said. The archery segment lasts two weeks and the kids shoot every day.
“Toward the end I ask if they want to do something different. But they always want to do archery,” Elder said.
When Elder and her principal started considering an archery program about four years ago, they discussed what could be offered that would be a good fit for students living in a rural mountainous area.
“We said, ‘what can we teach these kids that they can use for the rest of their lives in southwest Colorado?’ I never had any doubt it was a good idea. With archery you can be a bookworm or a star athlete and still have fun with it,” Elder said.
Joe Lewandowski is the public information officer for CPW’s Southwest Region. Joe is based in Durango.