James Island Elementary students can earn fishing instruction

Student Imani Rampersant caught this largemouth bass.

Gold coins are a treasure everywhere, but especially at James Island Elementary School.

Students there earn gold coins as a reward for positive behavior, and they can spend them on all types of treasures, including a guided fishing trip at the school's outdoor classroom.

One of PE teacher Patrick Harrington's passions is fishing, and when he first saw the outdoor classroom — a large lake in front of the school with a dock — with the native plants, the bird life (including an osprey and a bald eagle) and mainly the fishing, he saw a golden opportunity.

“We've been thrilled to have Mr. Harrington use our outdoor classroom. We have that beautiful resource, the pond and the dock,” said school counselor Liz Chirles.

Chirles said the school's Positive Behavior Interventions and Systems (PBIS) program teaches students the tools to be successful in school, things like walking in the hallways and keeping their eyes on the teacher.

She said the school has won PBIS awards for the past three years and that data shows the program leads to increases in test scores and grades with decreases in referrals and interruption to instruction.

“When they make those good choices, they earn gold coins, and our big ticket item is going to the outdoor classroom and going fishing with Mr. Harrington. It uses our resources and the kids are thrilled. They love it.”

Imani Rampersant, a shy fifth grader, was one of the first to cash in, and she did so in a big way. She caught a 1-pound, 12-ounce bream that was a category winner in the annual Trident Fishing Tournament. She also was named the outstanding youth angler in freshwater by the tournament that recognizes outstanding catches made in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

“It was a fun experience. I was excited,” said Rampersant. “It was hard to keep it away from the ropes under the water. The fish pulled really hard.”

Cade Keegan sits quietly in a chair in Harrington's office as the PE teacher explains what they will be doing and what to expect on the upcoming fishing trip. Harrington strips out some line from the rod and reel, then snips it off.

“Why don't I bite it off? Because I'd chip my teeth” Harrington explains.

Harrington suggests that one of their best bets to catch a fish today is using a floating worm. Describing each step, he ties a small swivel onto the line, adds a leader and hook, and then shows Keegan how to rig the worm so it won't spin in the water.

They then walk down the hallway and head to the outdoor classroom. Harrington unlocks the gate as they decide where to fish. They discuss the wind conditions and decide on a risky spot — a weedy area in a corner of the lake with a piece of PVC pipe sticking up.

Harrington demonstrates and explains how to use a spinning rod, and as he hands it over, he offers one last piece of advice: “Don't let go of my rod!”

The rods and reels and other tackle for the program are part of Harrington's personal fishing tackle collection.

On Keegan's second cast, a largemouth bass inhales the offering, but much to their dismay, winds its way around the pipe. The fish eventually breaks the six-pound test line.

After moving onto the dock and re-rigging, Keegan begins to cast again, and it doesn't take long to hook another bass. This one makes several jumps, but as Keegan gets it near the dock, the 2½-pound fish spits the hook. Later, Keegan will catch a large bream using a Rattletrap lure meant for bass.

“I make sure they catch a fish,” Harrington said. The students are photographed with their catch, which is then released. Later, the student must write an article about the experience, which is posted along with their photo on a school bulletin board.

“For most of them, it's their first fishing trip. A lot of kids I've taken two or three times before they catch a fish.”

One of Harrington's most memorable teaching excursions was with a kindergarten student who caught his first fish to the cheers of class members who were on the playground adjacent to the pond.

To Harrington, fishing is only part of the teaching experience.

“Nobody has used it that much,” he said of the outdoor classroom. “I love the outdoors. I learned to fish and hunt here in South Carolina and saw this as the perfect opportunity for me to use my knowledge and do something for the kids.'

“Some times, it's the first time they have ever experienced anything outdoors. We walk down there and show that what we have. It's amazing, beautiful.”

Harrington said he would like to be able to do more things with the environmental aspect, such as charting water quality or tagging fish.

“The birds we have here are amazing. There's an osprey out here catching fish every day. We have five or six different kinds of ducks. We have great blue herons, white herons, Louisiana herons.

“The possibilities are endless for what could be done with what we have here,” Harrington continued.

“I'm trying to expose as many people to the outdoors as I can. That's my passion and love. That's why I want to get the word out.”