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A new initiative will help introduce students to careers in wildlife management

Wyoming Game & Fish Department
Students learn about trout from Wyoming Game & Fish employees.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Department of Education, and office of Gov. Mark Gordon announced a conservation education initiative aimed at students in upper elementary grades and above in an effort to educate them about the outdoors and introduce them to careers in wildlife. Wyoming Public Radio’s Hugh Cook spoke with the Game and Fish’s Nish Goicolea about the innovative new initiative.

Nish Goicolea: This whole program is kind of a combination of everything we already do but done in a very systematic education delivery form. And our goal in this is to start getting kids at a younger age, in a consistent manner across Wyoming, exposed to conservation education, the themes of it, in the hopes that eventually, it'll lead into some of our other programs like our fellowship program with the University of Wyoming, and then our recruitment program to eventually come work for us. So, kind of that opportunity to start around fourth or fifth grade, get to know Game and Fish, get exposed to the red shirts, the green trucks, and all the things we do, and then know the pathways going forward that can ultimately lead to college education careers and so forth.

Hugh Cook: How did this program come about? What was that timeline like, or what was that pathway like?

NG: You know, I would say it really started with an overhaul and kind of a revamping of our hunter education program. We've had hunter education in the state of Wyoming for a very long time. It's a legal certification that's in statute that allows people to hunt big game in Wyoming, and it's recognized and other states and other countries. And as we're going through this program, we knew that we needed to do a lot of updates, both [in] how we delivered the program [and] the curriculum. We're going through right now and getting ready to have a new manual printed. And so, the content in there we knew we wanted to go through an update. We updated our policies internally for Game and Fish and then started looking at how the delivery was going with our volunteer instructors, and how we could do a better job serving them with content, curriculum, and consistency. And then, from there, we were like, ‘Man, why don't we just make this really accessible for schools as well? Why don't we take our content and curriculum and look and see how it can link into the State Board of Education Standards, and the Department of Education's assessment of curriculum and what fourth?' And right now, there's a couple other initiatives and education that are happening around the state. The state Board of Education just completed their profile of a graduate in Wyoming, knowing this is what, theoretically, a Wyoming students should look like and be able to do when they graduate from high school. And a lot of the things they were talking about were things that we were over here at Game and Fish saying, ‘We do this. This is applicable knowledge, learning something and then learning how to apply it in the real world. Our difference is that ours is typically outdoors and with wildlife. And so this is perfect.’ And then from there, the State Board of Education is also in the process of kind of modifying and downsizing their standards for education. And we said, ’Well, we should look at those and see what they are.’ And so we did all of that. And we met a lot with the Department of Education, we've met with the State Board of Education. And we aligned all of our curriculum to those standards that we thought would be fitting. So, for example, our Trout in the Classroom program, we think it's a really nice fit. The curriculum is written, all of our curriculum is written, for fourth grade and above. And so, starting there and saying, ‘Well, what kind of teacher would teach Trout in the Classroom, would be a really good fit for that?’ And we said, ‘You know, it could be elementary teachers, it could be science teachers.’ And, ’How can we make that more accessible?’ And so that's kind of how that started. And then we started looking at theNational Archery [in the] Schools Program. We used to have that here at the department. It was let go I think somewhere around 12 to 15 years ago with some budget cuts. We knew we wanted to bring that back. We still have a few schools in Wyoming that are doing that program. And so then the next step was, well, who would who would this fit best with? And we knew we wanted to target PE teachers with that just because they had the space to do archery indoors. They also have typically the storage closets for the archery equipment. And so then we're thinking, ‘Well, how can we make that more accessible? And how can we make that make that enticing for PE teachers, and science teachers, and other teachers to use this curriculum?’ And so that's where that alignment to the standards and the Department of Education really comes into play there.

HC: In terms of how this will be delivered in schools, outdoor education, physical education, things of that nature, field trips, and things like that, would that be a part of this program and stuff like that, both within the school day as well as outside of school?

NG: It could be. You know, we have a very customizable format for all of these programs.Trout in the Classroom, for instance, we help schools set up with our partner Trout Unlimited, [to] help them set up the aquarium equipment. We're going to deliver eggs from our hatcheries to the schools and then over the course of a semester they can watch their eggs turn into trout. But during all this time, if they wanted to do a field trip to go fishing somewhere, and I'm in Cheyenne right now, so if they wanted to go, for example, [to] Curt Gowdy, we offer those things already. We offer to take kids fishing or school classes fishing. Some of these programs will sync really nicely with outdoor education programs in the state. Some of them will sync up with after school programs that are going on. But we're not dictating that. We just want to provide the baseline programs and then the schools that want to go fishing with us or want to do something outdoors. Absolutely. We already do that. And we have partners that do that. So, there's a lot of different opportunities there, depending on how schools want to do it.

HC: Has the state had a program like this in the past as comprehensive as this is? Or is this something that is kind of new and innovative for Wyoming?

NG: So this is very much new and innovative. I mean, we've had components of all of these programs around the state, but we haven't had it aligned and synced up with the education realm and Wyoming the way we do now.

HC: When could this be expected to be rolled out in school districts across the state?

NG: Right now, we're already kind of starting that process. We already have 22 schools across the state that do hunter education either during the school day after school, or kind of a combination with some weekend supplements. And so that was kind of already going. We do have a few schools that are doing the National Archery [in the] Schools Program. Right now, we're working to get more teachers certified. So you have to be certified and asked to teach this program and Game and Fish can certify teachers for that. So we're hoping over the course of the next year, year and a half, we can start that process. And it's not a long certification. It's typically a day. But after that, we can get them the equipment and they could start. Then Trout in the Classroom, like I said, it has to have the aquarium equipment, the logistics with the eggs from our hatchery - that will start in January. We'll start piloting that program in January. The other two, we can start today. We just have to get all the teachers certified to teach hunter ed and to teach NASP, the National Archery in Schools program. But the Trout in the Classroom will start in January. So, to answer your question, I guess, today and going forward.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.

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