When James Clevenger grew up north of Broken Bow, life revolved around hunting and fishing.
Now, with help from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, he’s added outdoor education to his credentials as an Algebra 1 teacher at Lexington Public Schools.
It all started three years ago when he started teaching at Lexington.
A friend from those hunting and fishing days contacted Clevenger about the outdoor education program he had run for 11 years in Battiest, southeast Oklahoma.
With the blessing of the school administration, Clevenger contacted the ODWC for the new elective.
Participation has increased year on year and this year there are two classes in high school and one in middle school.
Safety is paramount and Clevenger begins each new year by ensuring that all students have their Hunter Safety Card.
The second week is dedicated to introducing students to the National School Archery Program and all NASP safety procedures.
“There’s two weeks of security before you do anything,” Clevenger said.
The ODWC introduced its Oklahoma Fishing in the Schools program to nearly 50 schools in 2011. Participating districts number in the hundreds today. This program is an extension of the Aquatic Resources Education Program that the department developed in 1988.
As part of OKNASP, emphasis is placed on bowhunting, bowfishing, hunter education, and the Oklahoma School Shooting Sports Program.
The ODWC offers free fishing training in Oklahoma schools for teachers. The only stipulation is that districts must sign an agreement to incorporate all outdoor education programs in the department for at least three years.
For this agreement, the school receives 25 rods and reels, equipment, hand towels, pliers, clippers, educational posters, a knotting kit, an equipment box and casting plugs.
As the Lexington program grew, high school history teacher Garrett Benson was certified, taking the outdoor education program in middle school and taking a second class in high school.
“If Garrett hadn’t volunteered, the program wouldn’t be where it is today,” Clevenger said.
This year, the district purchased Outdoor Adventures and incorporated it into physical education classes.
Separate training and certification is required to teach the OKNASP program.
For educators, the focus is on setting up the range, running a safe archery range, developing student skills, maintaining equipment, and more.
Clevenger said that since the program is elective, students must pass all of their courses at all times to participate.
“It’s a lever to improve grades,” he said.
For OKNASP, the wildlife department gave the district a dozen complex single-cam bows for high school and a dozen more when Benson started the program in middle school.
“The only thing the district had to buy was five targets and five dozen arrows,” Clevenger said.
It was then that the Norman Sports Academy made an additional donation of hunting and fishing equipment.
This year, there are 260 outdoor education students in Lexington, and the district has archery and fishing teams.
At the end of 2021, Clevenger took 24 students to Blue River to teach them trout fishing.
The archery team competed in eight tournaments, finishing third in the state in the Central Oklahoma Tier 2 division.
The team members are Hailey Brown, Logan Haynes, Josh Scott, Cash Vaughn, Dax Beason, Booth Vaughn, Hunter Hervey, Sadye Paul, Boston Huffert, Preston Ladusau, Izzy Pack, Frankie Daniels, Casey McShane, Matty Finley, Bailey Hamm, Brycen Franks, Skyy Loux, Morgan Cline, Chasity Chandler, and Karson Klupenger.
Additionally, one archer – rookie Dax Beason – emerged victorious in the Tier 2 competition. He is now heading to Louisville, Ky., May 11-14 to compete in the national tournament.
Matty Finley won a custom bow and holster for winning the Outdoorman of the Year award.
Beason also leads one of two competitive fishing teams in Lexington.
The outdoor education program has given Beason, all around 5-foot-4 and 80 pounds, something that more traditional high school sports can’t — the opportunity to “shine with anyone,” said Clevenger.
Archery practice is four days a week, plus two days after school.
“We teach 60 children a day with minimal cost to school,” Clevenger said.
There may be less emphasis on competitive fishing since it is an expensive endeavor that the school cannot fund.
Still, Lexington has two teams. One consists of Dax Beason and Abby Sample and the captain is Dax’s father, Ritchie Beason. The second team is Wyatt Woods and Wyatt McBride and the captain is Mark Woods.
Fishing tournaments require each team to have a fishing boat, an adult captain who must also pay for accommodation, meals and fuel for 2-3 day tournaments.
Clevenger is adamant that his students don’t fundraise, but rather try to get sponsors for fishing teams.
For students without resources for competitive fishing, Clevenger started the Angler of the Year program, a weekly fishing contest for kids.
The contest lasts for five weeks, focusing on a different fish each week. The list includes catfish, crappie, white bass, black bass, and any bass.
All fish are judged by length. Once caught, the fish is photographed while being measured and then released. Photos are sent weekly.
From one class three years ago to three classes now, Outdoor Education in Lexington has a proven track record.
Clevenger is interested to see how many classes the district can offer in 2022-23.
“We need teachers who want to get involved in outdoor education,” he said. “The first comment I get from parents is ‘I wish they had this when I was in school.'”