Archery in the Schools Program Off Like A Shot
In Missouri, the program has grown from no local programs to 15 in three months.
JEFFERSON CITY-April 18 was the day before spring break at Shawnee R-III School in Henry County, and the little school’s hallways were electric with excitement. As a special treat to start their vacation, first- through fourth-graders were going to see an archery demonstration by pupils in grades four through eight.
The younger children’s excited voices reached the auditorium long before they pushed through its gray steel doors and filled the bleachers like a bubbling freshet. Their chatter quickly died, however, when upper classmates took positions before bull’s-eye targets.
The hush grew deeper as the shooters fitted arrows to the strings of compound bows and filled the air with the brief hisses and sharp whacks of target arrows driving home. When all the arrows were spent, the younger children broke out in wild cheers and applause. Archers’ backs grew visibly straighter, their shoulders squarer as they accepted the adulation.
Shawnee School was the first in Missouri to receive a cash grant from Missouri’s National Archery in the Schools Program (MoNASP), marking the latest milestone in a movement that is sweeping the nation.
Other Missouri schools approved for MoNASP grants include Aurora Junior High School, North Wood R-IV in Salem, Holden Middle School in St. Joseph, North Andrew in Rosendale, Pleasant Hope Middle School, Pleasant Hope High School, Dent-Phelps R-III in Salem, Sappington Elementary in St. Louis and Plato R-V.
The program began in Kentucky as a collaboration between state education and conservation agencies and Mathews, Inc., an archery manufacturer headquartered in Sparta, Wisc. Together, they created what eventually would become the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). It was designed to infuse the educational process with excitement and introduce students to a healthful outdoor activity.
Judging by the program’s growth, they succeeded. The Kentucky departments of Education and Fish and Wildlife Resources introduced the program into 100 middle schools’ physical education curricula in 2002. Since then it has expanded to 5,000 schools and more than 3 million pupils nationwide. Canada, Australia and South Africa are involved, too. Program promoters say Europe is next.
Several things account for this success, according to MoNASP coordinator Kevin Lohraff.
“The beauty of archery is that anyone can do it,” said Lohraff. “Everyone can improve their skill at it and excel. You don’t have to be big. You don’t have to be fast. You don’t have to be strong or athletic to succeed. It’s an equalizer sport that gives everyone a chance to be successful.”
He said archery even lends itself to participation by students with disabilities. Mobility and hearing impairments are not serious obstacles. Even visually impaired shooters can succeed at archery when working with sighted partners.
Furthermore, archery is an excellent fit with results-oriented, accountable education. MoNASP curriculum incorporates archery into educational standards for mathematics, history and language arts.
Perhaps most important is the overall effect NASP has had on participants. Lohraff said studies showed that participating schools have fewer behavior problems, because pupils do not want to lose the privilege of participating in archery. NASP schools report improved grades in core curriculum areas and increased attendance as a result of pupils’ enthusiasm for the program.
Lohraff said every NASP school has stories about how the program has changed participants’ lives.
“It helps kids who are struggling with academics find something fun to keep them in school. Letting an arrow loose and seeing it hit the bull’s-eye does something to you. It gives you a sense of achievement that is much more difficult to get with most other sports. It makes you want to come back for more.”
For some children, said Lohraff, archery programs make the difference between thinking of themselves as losers or feeling like they are good at something.
“Sometimes it is just a question of giving a kid something positive to do instead of getting into trouble. One survey showed that 94 percent of participants said they enjoyed it, and 54 percent reported feeling better about themselves afterwards.”
This aspect of MoNASP is captured in the T-shirts that students at Shawnee School wear. They bear the message, “Changing lives one arrow at a time.”
NASP has been shown to reduce drop-out rates, too. Eighty-eight percent of drop-outs in one survey said they were not involved in any extracurricular activities. More than one-third of NASP-participating schools developed archery clubs.
Sponsors have created a grant program to make sure MoNASP is within the financial means of any school district. Shawnee School, which has only 51 students, is an excellent example. Physical Education Teacher and School Counselor Luann Weeks got a $500 grant from the Warrensburg Wal-Mart and several hundred dollars in cash contributions from other area businesses, sporting groups and individuals. R-III School Board President John Dameron even chipped in to make it happen. Weeks combined this with a NASP grant – the first in Missouri – to acquire the necessary equipment.
To make archery in the school programs even more affordable, MoNASP makes equipment available at wholesale prices. It offers a “canned” program with curriculum materials ready for any teacher to use. It has only three requirements for official participation.
Instructors must complete 8 to 12 hours of training provided free of charge – along with curriculum material – by the Conservation Department. Professional development credit is available for taking the training.
Participating schools must use universal-fit archery equipment kits for which the curriculum is designed. This also ensures safety and puts all pupils on an equal footing.
Finally, every instructor must use MoNASP curriculum materials, which are tied to state education requirements.
The prescribed equipment is adjustable for the physical needs of any user, regardless of size or strength. This allows boys and girls, small and large, to master the instinctive skills involved in archery.
Weeks said her fifth- through eighth-grade archers quickly mastered the basics of archery and set about trying to improve their accuracy. “Most of them now are working on a grouping. I tell them if they can put their hand down on the target and touch all three of the arrows, you are getting really close.”
Statewide MoNASP sponsors are the Conservation Department and the Conservation Federation of Missouri. The National Wild Turkey Federation and the National Rifle Association have helped local schools buy NASP equipment, and Bass Pro Shops soon will give grants to schools for archery equipment as well.
So far, 35 Missouri schools participate in NASP. For information about the program and MoNASP grants, contact Lohraff at P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102, phone 573-522-4115, ext. 3294, e-mail Kevin [dot] Lohraff [at] mdc [dot] mo [dot] gov. Information about NASP is available at nasparchery.com/.