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Teaching the teachers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The whistle blast echoed off the gymnasium's walls.

"OK, squad number one! Get your equipment and go to the line! Bows on toes, and wait for my signal!"

Half a dozen teachers walked forward, lifted brightly colored bows off a rack, took their places next to tubes filled with arrows, rested the lower limbs of their bows on the toes of their shoes, and stood waiting.

A second whistle spurred the teachers to action. As one, they reached down, pulled arrows from the tubes beside each of them, set the arrows on their bows' strings, drew and fired.

Ordinarily in West Virginia's Archery in the Schools program, the teachers blow the whistle and the schools' physical education students obey the commands. But in a recent training session at George Washington High School, teachers became the students.

Several times each year, instructors from the state Division of Natural Resources train new groups of teachers in the basics of archery instruction. Teachers who pass the two-day, 12-hour courses become certified by the National Archery in the Schools organization, and thus become qualified to teach archery to students involved in their schools' AIS programs.

Krista Snodgrass, who administers the program, said it has become so popular the DNR is having trouble scheduling enough training sessions to meet the demand.

"We're at about 300 schools involved in the program in grades K through 12," she said. "To give you an idea how much it has grown, we started in 2004 with just 18 schools."

The program teaches archery to students as part of participating schools' physical education classes. Many schools take the program a step further and establish archery clubs, or even sponsor competitive teams.

"We get calls all the time from phys-ed teachers and principals who want to get programs started in their schools," Snodgrass said. "We try to hold at least four training sessions a year, but to really meet the demand we'd have to hold a couple a month."

Schools with fledgling AIS programs aren't the only ones sending teachers to be certified. Snodgrass said demand is also high from schools with established programs.

"As teachers retire or move to different schools, they have to be replaced, so we train the replacements," she explained.

The class at George Washington attracted 20 teachers from 18 different schools. Fayette County's Meadow Bridge High School sent two. They were phys-ed teacher Steve Hambrick and math teacher Ben Bone.

"This is the first year our school has had the program," Hambrick said. "The elementary school has had the program for quite a while, and now that the kids from the elementary school are getting into middle and high school, they're asking to have programs there as well."

Bone said the school's bows, arrows, targets, safety net and other equipment has already been purchased. "As soon as Steve and I are certified, we can start teaching," he added.

Brenda Albright, the phys-ed and special-ed teacher at Randolph County's Pickens School, said the AIS program represents the tiny K-through-12 school's only opportunity to participate in interscholastic sports.

"We just don't have enough kids for basketball or any other sport," she said. "Our archery squad is our only team of any kind. We've had it for three years now, and we've had kids qualify for the state and national tournaments."

Teachers aren't the only ones interested in becoming certified. Archery-shop owners, eager to support local schools' teams, are sending people to be trained. So are archery and bow-hunting clubs.

"They're getting certified so they can open their shops' or clubs' ranges after hours so the schools' kids can practice," Snodgrass explained. "They want to have the training so they can be consistent with what the phys-ed teachers are teaching."

The demand for certified instructors has become so great DNR officials are now going into colleges to certify phys-ed majors before they graduate.

"We've done workshops at Concord and Wheeling Jesuit [universities]. And we had a kid in [the George Washington training class] from West Virginia State," Snodgrass said.

As the AIS program continues to expand to new schools, DNR officials might find themselves forced to expand their training staff.

"Right now there are just three of us, and each of us has other job responsibilities in addition to Archery in the Schools," Snodgrass said. "We're getting close to having demand outstrip our ability to do courses. We did six of them last year, and we wish we could have done more."

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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