By Donna Thornton/News Editor
When Southside Elementary School Principal Carrie Yancey interviewed people last year for a P.E. teacher’s job at the school she asked every candidate it they had any training in archery – and it had nothing to do with school security issues.
Yancey has a friend who implemented an archery curriculum at a Blount County elementary school, and she was interested in doing the same thing at Southside.
When she asked Michael Jaggers, now in his first year teaching P.E. at SES, he said hadn’t had training, but he’d love to.
And now students in the fourth and fifth grade at SES are loving archery, by all accounts.
Jaggers received certification through the National School Archery Program. Anna Johnson, also a P.E. teacher at Southside, plans to get certification this summer.
He also visited at that Blount County school to see how their classes were taught, and in February, SES became the first school that Yancey knows of in the county to teach archery.
Jaggers takes students one class a the time during P.E. (while the other students go outside) and teaches archery. First stepsin the curriculum included classroom work and learning safety before students pick up a bow and point at a target.
Watching a group of fourth-graders – who were getting to shoot for the first time – there were varied reactions. “It scared me!” one girl exclaimed, as she jumped after releasing the arrow. On their first try, several young archers watched their arrows skitter across the gym floor.
Hayden Frye and Eli Barber were letting arrows fly with confidence, and while several first-time archers sent arrows skittering across the gym floor without reaching the target, theirs were sinking into the target, hitting or approaching the rings.
“We go hunting all the time,” the two said. The boys explained they have bows and use them to hunt deer and hogs.
Others share their enthusiasm, even if they haven’t had the experience.
“I’ve been asking my dad to get me a bow,” Owen Westcott offered.
“I asked my dad. He said no,” Jacob Dease added.
“ We’re pretty used to doing this,” Hayden said. The boys said they sometimes get into a tree stand and shoot at target from it. When asked if they’d like the idea of competing in archery, Eli had a quick answer.
“Yeah, we’re good,” he said.
“We do this all the time,” Hayden explained. “That’s the only reason we’re so good.”
Hayden may have hit on one of the reasons the students are enjoying archery, and one of the reasons Yancey and Jaggers were anxious to introduce the activity at SES.
“You don’t have to be really athletic to be able to do this,” Yancey said.
Jaggers said boys don’t have an edge on girls in archery. It takes discipline and concentration, rather than strength or speed.
Those are some of lessons archery can teach children, Yancey said, along safety and even responsibility.
Jaggers said with archery, it’s just them and the bow. How well they perform is up to them, he said. ‘They can’t blame anyone else.”
Most of the kids had far less experience than Eli and Hayden.
“I’d never even picked one up before,” Molly Steapleton said, after her first experience handling a bow.
Laina Townsel had, at a friend’s house. She said shooting was not hard. “It was fun.”
“It was kind of scary at first,” Sydney Yancey said. “I was worried I wouldn’t do good.”
The girls definitely believed they were on equal footing with the boys when it comes to archery.
“We can do better than the boys,” one girl said, “under certain circumstances.”
Southside Elementary’s archery program is partically funded through a grant from Alabama Wildlife and Fisheries. Jaggers said the students spend time in class learning 11 steps to success, and they must complete a test before they ever pick up a bow.
“I got 100,” several of the students volunteered, when asked about the test.
During class, five students at shoot at a time, standing at a line, holding their bows, taking an arrow from a bucket and preparing, following whistle commands from Jaggers. The students who are waiting, sit quietly, watching their classmates. After shots are fired students heed Jaggers’ “bows on the toe” instruction while waiting for advice and another chance to launch an arrow.
Jaggers had fifth-grader Hannah Henderson demonstrate how she pulls back the bow.
“Look at her elbow. It’s up and out,” he told the students. “That gives her all her power.”
Yancey said a letter went home to parents before archery classes began giving them the opportunity to opt out if they didn’t feel archery was right for their children. A few kids were reluctant, saying they’d rather go out and play.
“After they tried it and had a bow in their hands …” Jaggers said, most wanted to continue.
“I’ve seen parents stopping in the car line (to pick up kids) asking Michael what kind of equipment they need to buy,” Yancey said, for their children to practice archery at home.
Introducing archery at SES, it seems, was right on target.