Like most teenage girls, Taliya Campbell loves to shop and text her friends.
She doesn’t consider herself an outdoorsy person, but the West Ashley High sophomore discovered this year she likes to fish and shoot a bow.
“I don’t do this kind of stuff at home,” Campbell said.
Campbell did both in an elective class that officials say appears to be the only one of its kind in the state.
West Ashley High School’s outdoor pursuits class was launched about three years ago under the leadership of Principal Mary Runyon. She saw students learning how to play basketball and football, and she wondered why they couldn’t also learn about the recreational sports that can last a lifetime.
Runyon approached Thomas Cousins, an assistant football coach and outdoors enthusiast, about teaching the class, and they’ve had a waiting list ever since. At least a dozen other high schools have called the school to ask how they could replicate the course.
“It just worked out beautifully,” Runyon said.
Students spend about two days each week in a classroom, and the remaining three doing hands-on activities. They cover fishing, firearms safety, hunter education, marksmanship, camping, ethics, archery, all-terrain vehicle safety and wilderness survival.
“I’m teaching them skills they can use for life,” Cousins said. “If they can leave my class and have respect for the outdoors and be a conservationist and an ethical sportsman, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
Last week, students spent one of their class periods fishing. They filed into the classroom, picked up poles, and walked to the lake at the back of the school’s campus. Junior Emma Lew Herman was among those with her line in the water, waiting for a bite.
Herman has grown up fishing and hunting, but she said the class taught her “the right way” to do both. Conservation and respect for nature were emphasized during lessons, and she said she’ll remember those principles long after the school year ends.
“This is my favorite class ever,” she said.
Giving students first-hand experiences is a priority, so students practice building outdoor structures and cooking outdoors. They made fires in the woods so often that Campbell said she had to bring perfume to school so she wouldn’t smell like smoke for the rest of the day.
Despite sometimes smoky smelling clothes, Campbell said she’s glad she stayed in the class. She learned she enjoys archery, and she’s looking forward to competing next year on the school’s team.
“I already put the class on my schedule for next year,” she said.
The class is housed in a mobile unit at the back of its campus. The double-wide trailer has aquariums with live turtles, bass, a tarantula and a guinea pig. Fishing poles and sleeping bags are stacked around the room, and its walls are adorned with mounts of deer head, antlers, fish and birds. One bulletin board is covered with photos of students and the game they’ve caught or shot.
Cousins equipped the class on a shoestring budget. He’s received a grant and a handful of donations, and he loans students his personal equipment.
Senior Zach Farthing enjoyed fishing before he took the class but said he’d never been hunting until Cousins took them to his hunting club.
“The other (classes) I take because I have to,” he said. “This is the only class that allows me to do the stuff I want to do.”
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter. or 937-5546.