Have you ever had one of those moments where a student is so excited that they are beaming from ear to ear with pride over an accomplishment achieved as a result of a learning experience in your classroom? What if you could experience that once-in-a-lifetime moment with the job of a lifetime every day? What if you had the opportunity to change the course of a child’s life in one week? Sounds like a dream or a fairy tale doesn’t it?
Can you imagine having a classroom the size of approximately 30 acres? What would you do with all of that space? You could be like Scott and build a “Deerasic Park” Deer Research Center, a research pond with nearby wetlands and observation deck, a bone yard, a fish hatchery, and a log cabin style Wildlife Research Center. To top it off, you can capture the many smiles and accomplishments of your students every day and memorialize them with a student produced and created national television show! No, this is not a dream. This is the real life of Scott Jordan, Fisheries and Wildlife Technology teacher at Cuba-Rushford Central School.
Scott has a unique approach to teaching his students in that he turns control of the classroom over to his students every day. With his guidance, his students create their own projects to work on, some of which may take several years to complete. The class focuses on giving students the opportunity to study biological organisms in their natural habitats while at the same time, honing in on and utilizing the skills and future aspirations of each individual student in the class. Student managers are chosen to run and manage the various buildings and projects along with managing a team of student workers/researchers as well. Various projects include taxidermy; reassembling skeletons of large animals that have decomposed in the boneyard; capturing, collaring, tagging, and tracking whitetail deer; caring for and tracking the age, weight, and length of the fish in the hatchery and pond, and much more.
It doesn’t matter what field a student wants to pursue in the future as Scott will work with each individual student to develop a learning plan with projects that meets the needs and interests of his students. For example, students who wish to enter the computer science field work on producing and creating the television show and creating and maintaining the class’s website and social media accounts. Can you imagine writing on a high school resume that you have created and produced over 50 nationally televised episodes of a television show? You want to be a lawyer? No problem! Why not research the laws and regulations involved in creating a research pond near a wetland? Interested in becoming a doctor or a veterinarian? Excellent! You are in charge of working side by side with a professional to give inoculations to the deer!
In addition to all of the onsite experiences the students have, Scott also starts most mornings off during the various hunting seasons by taking groups of students out hunting before the school day even starts. The students also have the opportunity to participate in various annual hunting and fishing expeditions to Alaska, New Zealand, South Africa, Ontario, and Texas. Scott is always amazed at the transformations the students go through over the course of just one week on one of these trips. Their confidence levels are built up so much, not to mention the life skills that are obtained by traveling around the world and working and interacting with people from various cultures outside of Western NY.
Prior to becoming a classroom teacher, Scott was a fisheries research biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He actually was paid to catch fish and camp out under the stars, listening to the arctic loons, wolves, and brown bears. For Scott, that was another job of a lifetime. One day he asked his boss why he was chosen for the job over the other 300 applicants. He was told that it was not only because of his grades, but more importantly; because he was the only applicant with ocean beach seine experience. Scott’s philosophy as an educator is the result of that one conversation. “You see, I received that ocean beach seine experience during one Ecology class field trip to Cape Cod while attending SUNY Cobleskill. I landed that job of a lifetime because of one experience, during one class, while I was attending one single field trip!” According to Scott, he tries to create as many similar opportunities for his students, hoping that their experiences will eventually land them that job of a lifetime.
Scott currently has more than 7 recent graduates who are working in the field of fisheries & wildlife all over the world as a result of experiences they had in his classroom. A current student of his who happens to be the Hatchery Manager for the class and aspires to pursue a career in fisheries technologies and engineering told me that the main benefit of taking the Fisheries and Wildlife Technology class is that you get to experience everything for yourself instead of just reading about it. He said that because of his experiences in the class and Mr. Jordan’s connections, he will now be able to go out in the field and write field expeditions a year earlier in college.
If you want that job of a lifetime where you have the opportunity to provide your students with real life experience in the field, and think that all of that is just a dream, well think again. Scott’s advice is to start small and do what works out for you locally. He built his “classroom” with a lot of hard work, time, fundraisers, and grants. This has been a project in the making for almost 20 years, and there is always room for expansion, whether that means more building projects or more wildlife to research. You, too, can make a difference one student at a time!
(CRCS Outdoors airs on the Pursuit Channel on Friday nights at 6:00 pm.)
By Kristen Keenan, CA BOCES