Maybe Luke Adam has the answer to America’s growing nature deficit disorder.
Adam, a math teacher in northeast Minnesota, is the brains behind a new fishing class at Nashwauk-Keewatin High School that is hooking kids in ways even they didn’t think they would be hooked.
Called Spartan Angling — after the school’s sports-team name — the class next week will conclude its debut semester. Establishment of the course followed Adam’s successful funding request a year ago to the Department of Natural Resources.
“Our school board, principal and superintendent have all been very supportive,” Adam said. “They understand that, historically, fishing has been an important part of northern Minnesota culture that has been passed from generation to generation, and that it’s a great activity for everyone.”
But even in northern Minnesota, some youth are missing out on the outdoors traditions their forebears enjoyed. Some kids can’t afford to fish, Adam said, or otherwise don’t have an opportunity. Others are being raised by single parents who don’t know how to fish or are too busy to go.
Whatever the case, an important link that connects the past, the present and the future has weakened, Adam said, or is missing altogether.
“Our district has a 50-percent free or reduced lunch population and a 30-percent special education population,” Adam said. “By the same token, our district is full of great kids who are passionate about the outdoors, but sometimes don’t have the knowledge, means or equipment to participate.”
Adam’s fishing-class idea was sparked when he saw a DNR publication noting the agency had grant money for programs designed to recruit, retain and/or reactivate hunters and anglers.
Growing up in Keewatin, Adam was bitten early by the fishing bug. His grandfather had him on the water often and also took him to Canada on a fly-in trip.
“That was a walleye trip, and when you’re exposed at a young age to Canadian fishing, it hooks you for life,” he said.
When Adam learned the DNR had funds to lure Minnesotans into traditional outdoor activities, he summoned his twin passions — teaching and fishing — to write a $20,000 grant request to underwrite a fishing class (see spartanangling.com) at Nashwauk-Keewatin High School.
“My personal passion,” Adam wrote in the application, “is to equip high school students with the knowledge, experiences, awareness and conservation mentality to foster lifelong skills to enjoy angling for many years.”
Meeting five days a week, the credit-earning class is open to students in grades 9-12. Thirteen kids were enrolled in the semester just ending. Two are of American Indian descent and one is a girl.
“The class seems to attract kids who are looking to identify with an activity,” Adam said. “Many aren’t involved in typical school sports. And some know nothing about fishing. I had one student who didn’t know what an ice auger was.”
Twenty-nine students have signed up for Adam’s angling class for next year, an impressive number, considering a typical Nashwauk-Keewatin High School graduating class numbers total between 40 and 50 students.
“Some students who enrolled this semester thought we would go fishing all the time,” Adam said, chuckling. “But the class is more than that.”
A lot more, as it turns out.
Adam’s goal is to teach children that “a whole gamut of knowledge” comes with fishing. What must anglers consider before they fish? While they fish? After they fish?
As importantly, what makes one lake healthy and able to sustain good fish populations and another lake unhealthy, with no fish?
To teach the class, Adam had to relinquish the hour of preparation time he and other teachers are allowed daily. But that was an easy sacrifice to make, he said.
“This isn’t just a one-day shot at fishing” Adam wrote in his grant application, “but instead the goal is to build a foundation of knowledge, skills, and conservation awareness that creates success on the water and a respect for the environment.”
In class, students learn to identify various fish species, their habitat needs and how to catch them. Fish and water conservation are stressed, as is identification of various invasive species and the threats they pose to fish and the broader environment.
Adam has recruited individual anglers and fishing clubs to share knowledge with the fishing class, and a portion of the grant money was used to buy rods, reels and other gear that students can borrow.
“The class does go fishing,” Adam said. “Our big trip this last semester was to the Rainy River for sturgeon. Our principal, Ranae Seykora, went along, too. And the kids caught a big one — a 5-footer!”
Driven to see his fishing class become a staple in Nashwauk-Keewatin High School and in other schools, Adam is seeking new funding. The DNR money runs out after the fall semester, and he can’t reapply for the same grant.
“I’m not the kind of guy to let something like this die,” he said. “I know I’m doing a great thing for kids in my district, and I also know my students will walk out of Spartan Angling with a new respect for our natural resources, and that will help the cycle of outdoors participation in our area continue.”