RANDOM LAKE - On a Wednesday morning in Cascade, a pair of high schoolers follow hunting dogs through a long field.
Pheasants have been planted in the field. When the dogs see one, they pause, tense and point. Then, they pounce to flush it out, Jacob Pannier, a Random Lake High School sophomore, described.
“As soon as you see that shot, you have to take it,” Pannier said.
On their run, he and his partner hit one pheasant. The dogs retrieved it.
“They do most of the work. It’s nice to see them work,” Pannier said with a smile.
Pannier was one of about 30 students Random Lake High School life sciences teacher Natalie Weeks took out for a day of five-stand shooting and pheasant hunting last week. The day was the culmination of the hunter safety unit of Weeks’ American Wilderness Science class.
In the class, students learn about land management, animal management, wildfires, federal land use, archery and survival skills, in addition to getting certified in hunter safety.
The class may be the only one of its kind in the state, Weeks said.
“I don’t know any courses that go as in-depth and then take the kids out for a full day of shooting and actually hunting,” she said.
“A lot of these kids have never handled a firearm up until this point, and to be able to teach them to use it safely, I think, is a life-skill.”
Weeks did not grow up hunting, but started going in high school when someone introduced her to it. It’s exciting to give her students the same opportunity and take some out hunting for their very first time, she said.
“I think it is very important to know where your food comes from, and that’s the angle I take with it — being responsible and ethical,” Weeks said.
Weeks has raised awareness of conservation since joining the Random Lake High School staff and started an annual conservation fair to raise money for her students’ day at Highlands Hunt Club, school principal Susan McDonald said.
The Wisconsin Chapter of Safari Club International also gives the class a large grant every year so the students can shoot and hunt for free. The experience would otherwise be $200 to $300 per person, Weeks said.
Wisconsin teacher brings hands-on, outdoors learning to a new level
Weeks has brought science programming in Random Lake School District to a “different level” by introducing classes such as the wilderness course and other outdoors courses, McDonald said.
Weeks has also been collaborating with middle and elementary school teachers to incorporate outdoor education in their classes, and she spearheaded writing a grant to develop an outdoor classroom, McDonald said.
“She really is a creative and innovative teacher and likes to think outside the box,” McDonald said. “She is all about getting students immersed in the different topics they’re learning about.”
In the wildfire science unit of the wilderness course, for example, students make models of fire regimes and light them on fire.
“The kids have fun doing that, but they’re learning at the same time,” Weeks said.
“The first time I taught this class, I thought, we should teach kids about trees!” Weeks said. “Well, kids don’t get very excited about trees. But fire, now that’s something that kids get excited about. So I decided to teach forestry through the lens of fire.
“I went to a high school that was very lecture based, and … I don’t pay attention that way,” she said. “Of course, there are some times when you have to lecture as a teacher. I feel the kids get more out of it from doing those hands-on activities.”
David Sanfelippo, a junior in the wilderness course, said Weeks understands how he learns.
“I have ADHD, so I think of things differently. She gets that,” he said.
“(Hunting) today is definitely the most fun I’ve had,” he said, sitting in the dimly-lit eating area of Highlands Hunt Club. “But we always do a lot of going outside, maybe 70% of our time is outside. We practiced tracking deer, built forts, things like that.”
Lizzy Pieper, a senior, said the hands-on learning that gets students up and moving sets the wilderness class apart.
“I like the active aspect of it," she said. "You collaborate with others, and you also learn everyday life skills.”
‘I was always a tomboy … I love being able to be a little bit of that role model’
Abby Borchardt, a senior, said it makes a difference to have a female teacher running the wilderness course.
“Mrs. Weeks is awesome,” Borchardt said. “She’s like, not afraid of anything, and I feel like it teaches us girls especially that you can do anything a guy can do type mentality,” Borchardt said.
“It builds your character because her character is so much ‘be yourself’ type thing.”
It was mostly boys who took the wilderness class when Weeks started teaching it five years ago, she said. But over time, the number of boys in her class has remained about the same while the number of girls taking the class “goes up and up,” she said.
“I was always a tomboy and kind of a rough-and-ready type of person, and I love being able to be a little bit of that role model for some of my female students,” Weeks said. “And even for a lot of my male students, to see that, yeah, girls can get down and dirty with the best of them. … It’s something that’s very important to me.”
This article originally appeared on Sheboygan Press: Random Lake, Wisconsin, students go hunting with guns in unique class