Outdoor Exposure: Kennedale High School Teacher Builds Love of Outdoor Activities in His Students
Danny Wilcox grew up in Oklahoma and says he can’t remember
not being in the outdoors, particularly fishing along the Arkansas River or in
local ponds. But he loves hunting, camping and all kinds of other outdoor
activities and as a biology teacher and the head of Kennedale High School’s Outdoor Education Club, he is sharing his passion, love and knowledge of the
outdoors with a whole new generation of students.
Wilcox begins his 20th year of teaching this fall and is marking his 5th year with KISD. He teaches biology and adventures in outdoor education and is the sponsor of the school’s Outdoor Education Club. The school also has an ACE Archery Team and a bass fishing team. Kennedale High School students have ample outdoor opportunities.
Wilcox is married to Kerry and they have a daughter, Megan. He says they enjoy living in Mansfield and especially enjoy the “atmosphere of a smaller community, even though it is rapidly expanding.”
We asked Wilcox to tell us about the outdoor education opportunities at Kennedale High School and how he has witnessed kids respond to being exposed to the outdoors.
How did you become interested in the outdoors? I grew up in a fishing family in Oklahoma, so it has been a lifetime passion and love for me. When I was a kid, we would go to the Arkansas River for weeks at a time camping and running jug-lines and trot-lines. My dad got me hooked on bass fishing tourneys when I was in high school. We would fish several tournaments every year with his local bass club. I remember spending many days after school at local farm ponds or area lakes in my free time. I am also an avid deer hunter. There is something incredibly peaceful and relaxing about sitting in the woods or being on the lake away from the rat race. The silence at times can be deafening.
What are some of your favorite outdoor activities? Archery, fishing, hunting, boating, camping, horseshoes and sitting around a good campfire.
Tell us about the Kennedale High School Outdoor Education opportunities? Here at Kennedale High School our Outdoor Education program is separated into four different areas: Adventures in Outdoor Education is our PE-approved class that students take during the school day. AOE is a Dallas Ecological Foundation program. They provide the curriculum and instructor trainings for a small fee. Then schools that choose to add AOE to their course offerings assemble supplies needed to implement activities and aspects of the program they choose to focus on first. We have been blessed with many donors, groups, and organizations that have allowed us to obtain everything we needed in the first year, and are still providing some funding to maintain and expand the programs. In AOE, the students can get their Hunter Safety Course certifications for the same $15 fee they have to pay at Academy or other places, but the beauty of us doing it in school is that for every kid who pays their $15 fee, $10 of that goes back into our program to directly benefit them. Students can also get their Boater Safety Course certifications in AOE for $20, with $10 of that coming back to the program. We also teach beginning archery, angler education, Dutch oven cooking, tent set-up/take-down, field dressing, hunting scenario reconstruction and virtual skeet/trap shooting. The AOE classes are entering the 3rd year at KHS.
The Outdoor Education Club is a community-service based club designed to give back to the community. We have a field trip every year to Sonora Park in Kennedale where the kids get to fish all day while we cook hotdogs for them. For many of those kids, they end up catching the first fish of their lives and are hooked! They will always have the memory of the trip where they caught their first fish! The Outdoor Education Club is entering its fourth year.
We also have an ACE Archery Team. ACE is our after school program run by Logan Barrett and Stephanie Michener. They do an incredible job and have blessed us with some archery equipment needs and a virtual skeet/trap machine that allows every kid the opportunity to use a laser shotgun for target practice. Our ACE program gives us a place to get those kids who wish to pursue archery further outside of AOE in a competitive environment. We joined the first ever high school archery league this year with Ricky Albus and Arlington ISD. We go over and shoot against their kids once a month, and then shoot a regional qualifier. We qualified for state this year and entered the tournament seeded 16th. Our kids shot lights out and ended up leaving as the 7th best archery team in the state of Texas.
And lastly, as part of our Outdoor Education Club, we have a bass fishing team. It is not sponsored by the school and operates as a club sport only. Kids who wish to join must find a boater who can take them. Then we fill out all paperwork and fees to join the Student Angler Federation and then the Texas High School Bass Association. Through donations, we were able to buy our three groups of two team jerseys and pay their $50 entry fee per team for all but one or two of the tourneys. All travel expenses and boat gas are taken care of by participants.
Have you been involved with a group like this elsewhere? When I was attending Seminole High School in Oklahoma back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, we had a Biology teacher, Mike Cowart, who started an Outdoor Education Club. He would let kids come out and fish or hunt on his land. In fact, the first deer I ever harvested in my life came from hunting with him on his land. I took it with a bow. He is a teacher I try to emulate daily, he always had time for kids and outdoor activities.
Do you have any partners or other organizations that are involved? Yes. Scott McClure and the Dallas Ecological Foundation, Ralph Stow and the Willow Bend Hunt Club, the National Turkey Federation, Winchester Safe Company, our Kennedale ISD Education Foundation, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department supplied us with a $2,500 Explore Bow Hunting kit. Guest speakers like Steven Bardin from Texas Pro Lake Management and the Bass Brigades that have offered real world experiences for the kids, Scott and Della Michnavich hosted a fundraiser that purchased 7 Dutch ovens and all equipment needed for our cooking. Kip Bassett, a muzzleloader historian and member of the Arlington Sportsman’s Club, came and did a presentation for the kids. Mike Oser of Moe’s Tackle came in one day and showed the kids how he mass produces different lures. I am sure I am leaving someone out and I apologize if I have.
What are your goals and objectives for the Outdoor Education Club? The goal is simple. We want to expose every kid possible to outdoor activities. We want them to enjoy positive lifetime experiences and take those activities home to do with their families. We also want to give as many opportunities as possible for every kid to have something positive to belong to.
Are there others involved in operating the club? Student officers? Student Jonathan Hart is president of the Outdoor Education Club. Student Gabby Spencer is the president of our archery team, and parent David Miller does a lot in taking kids and helping make sure all loose ends are covered with the bass fishing teams.
What is your role and responsibility on a daily basis? Our responsibility is to provide the best experience possible for every kid who walks into our classrooms. We have three great instructors in Outdoor Ed, Coach Katrina Pytel, Coach Alton Widemon and myself work with the kids. We are all responsible for equipment set-up and take-down on a daily basis and ensuring we are helping kids learn basic outdoor skills.
How do kids get involved and what can they expect to learn and be exposed to? Kids can get involved by enrolling in the Adventures in Outdoor Education class, joining the ACE Archery Team or joining the Outdoor Education Club. There is a $10 fee to join the Outdoor Education Club and that covers costs of food and transportation for our field trip. Kids can be exposed to the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) tournament scoring, procedures and competitions, angler education skills like using a flyrod and regular push button rod and reel, Hunter Safety Course, Boater Safety Course, Dutch oven cooking, knot tying and equipment maintenance.
How many kids are involved with the club’s activities? We had 44 in the OEC this year. 27 on our archery team and 160 in AOE classes. In the two years we have had Outdoor Ed, 380 students have taken advantage of some branch of the program. That's almost 40 percent of our student body.
How often do the kids get to participate? We have an end of the year field trip to Sonora Park in Kennedale where they get to fish all day while I cook out. Archery team members get to shoot in a monthly tournament if they maintain grades, and the bass team gets to keep fishing as long as their grades stay above a 70. We follow all the academic expectations that the UIL uses.
Tells us about the community services projects the club does? We have partnered with Keeping Kennedale Beautiful two years in a row creating a butterfly park and we help the city of Kennedale construct a flowerbed at the water department entrance to improve aesthetics. We also do a trash pick-up at Sonora Park when we go. So, landscaping serves as our main community service.
What are some of the benefits the kids receive from being in the club? The club gets them the field trip. The AOE classes get them exposure to a wide variety of outdoor activities. The ACE Archery Team lets them specialize in a lifetime sport. The archery team builds pride, confidence and gives every kid the opportunity to belong to something positive and represent their school. Everyone can be successful in archery and the ladies often outshoot the gentlemen at competitions! Archery has a strong appeal to kids looking for a group to belong to that is fun, social and competitive all at the same time. Any student who finishes in the top 5 at state wins between $2,000-$5,000 in scholarship money. One of our bass teams, Ethan Miller and Simon Horn won the Eagle Mountain tourney and received around $1,200 in scholarships and prizes. District officials can expect attendance to improve and dropouts to decrease because now those kids are doing something fun and positive during the school day that they embrace. Those same officials can also expect grades to rise or at least stay above average. All we do is just like the UIL sports - no pass, no play. We had 22 members of our archery team recognized as Academic Archers by the National Archery in the Schools Program.
What’s coming up for the club this fall? Hunter Safety Course, Boater Safety Course, archery, Angler Education Course, tent set-up/take-down, Dutch Oven cooking, continue the archery league with AISD and hopefully improve upon our 7th place finish at state.
In what ways has the Outdoor Education Club been rewarding for you? Seeing kids smile when they realize they just accomplished something they have never done before is the ultimate reward. You see a kid catch their first fish, hit their first bulls-eye or get excited when they shoot a high score. Man, their eyes light up and they couldn’t wipe their grin off if they tried! Kids love to do these hands-on activities during the school day! They are getting exposure to lifetime activities they can share with their future families down the road. They are being forced to use basic math every time they shoot a round of arrows. This program is helping give kids something to belong to and provides activities that every kid can be successful in.
How can people get involved, participate or donate? Community members can volunteer to help with field trips or activities if they pass a background check. Donations are always welcome and are tax deductible in most cases. It doesn’t have to be money. We received numerous rod and reel combos, tackle boxes, lures, bait and items to pass on to the kids for them to keep and use for free. This program is about giving back and helping kids. If anyone would like to make any donations, you can reach me at email@example.com.
Anything else you would want our readers to know about the club? If you have a passion for the outdoors and all it entails, please try to find a way to get involved and expose kids to the world of outdoor activities.
If you would like to get the ball rolling with starting an Adventures in Outdoor Education program at your school, then please contact Scott McClure at the Dallas Ecological Foundation.