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Teaching skills for a lifetime

EG teacher receives DNR award for outdoor lessons

-Submitted photo
Amy Ascherl, a physical education teacher at Robert Blue Middle School in Eagle Grove, won the Brass Bluegill Award in August from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for her work in teaching students fishing, kayaking, canoeing and other outdoor activities.

EAGLE GROVE — For physical education teacher Amy Ascherl, class is much more than dodgeball and other sporty gymnasium fare.

With fishing, canoeing, kayaking and archery incorporated for fifth- through eighth-graders, she tries to instill a sense of appreciation and life skills that she hopes will carry with them through adulthood.

“I can’t be in a professional dodgeball league as an adult,” the Robert Blue Middle School teacher said. “I can go fishing.”

Even with COVID-19 dramatically changing the way schools operate — including the nix of most field trips this year — the outdoor activities are something she said have been relatively coronavirus proof, and an equalizer among the non-athletic and those with less money than others.

“It helps equalize the playing field for those who aren’t great at sports but can still show off skills,” Ascherl said. “I can still (go fishing) even without a $100 fishing pole.”

-Submitted photo
Every year, middle school students in Amy Ascherl’s classes at Robert Blue Middle School in Eagle Grove take a trip to a local pond to practice their newly-learned skills in fishing, kayaking and canoeing.

In 18 years of teaching, she’s learned that being a jack of all trades means more than jumping jacks and running laps. As a P.E. teacher for the last eight years, she incorporated the fishing, canoeing and kayaking with a field trip each year to local ponds — something that has earned her the 2020 Brass Bluegill Award from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Fish Iowa program.

Even if the kids get bored with one particular activity — fishing’s not a favorite for everyone, she concedes — it’s a highlight of the year for many students that has ripples beyond the pond.

“I try to expose my kids to as many things as they can do outside of class, but also continue to do well into adulthood,” she said.

Tying lines, hooking worms, and rowing in sync help instill a sense of responsibility, patience, fun, confidence and relaxation, along with the ability to learn how to slow down.

“They’re in such an ‘I need everything instant’ (phase),” with technology from smartphones to Chromebooks bombarding them with information at all times, Ascherl said. “I don’t think kids (slow down) enough.”

-Submitted photo
Robert Blue Middle School students in Amy Ascherl’s physical education classes learn lifelong skills with the practice of outdoor activities like fishing, giving them a new appreciation for the outdoors.

When a line is broken, one of her greatest joys is seeing a student replicate the problem-solving steps they learned in the class. And for many, it’s a time when they unexpectedly realize they’re good at something or enjoy something new.

“I hope they learn to love it a little bit,” she said. “It gives them a sense of accomplishment that they tried something they’ve never tried before and realize they’re good at it.”

Witnessing the sense of pride and smile on their faces when they hit a bullseye in archery, catch a fish or improve on a personal record is among the biggest privileges the job affords her.

After the archery unit, at least one or two students ask their parents for a bow and arrow for Christmas — without fail. And though the hobbies are basic enough to be accessible to those without means, they can also be as fancy as you like with wide ranges of expensive equipment.

And with new skills, the great outdoors is as big as they’d like it to be. By teaching them to fish, she’s teaching them skills not just for the year, but for a lifetime.

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