From the Pen of Carter P. Smith
I liked her the moment I met her. A diminutive, seemingly demure and soft-spoken educator, Keiko Davidson was anything but that when she confidently stepped right up to the lectern that spring day to address the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Her topic was fishing. And, when she began to speak, her face lit up like a Christmas tree.
Keiko Davidson is the principal at Hutsell Elementary School. Rest assured, she’s no ordinary principal, and as a result, Hutsell is no ordinary elementary school. Hutsell differs from its sister campuses in the acclaimed Katy Independent School District in at least two ways.
For one, well over 40 percent of the students there are limited English speakers. For another, more than two-thirds of the students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. And, up until 2007, Davidson and her colleagues at Hutsell Elementary were struggling with how to improve the performance of its third-, fourth- and fifth-graders on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
Her solution? Fishing. Say what? Yes, fishing.
In 2007, Davidson and her school colleagues forged a partnership with specialists from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s angler education branch to join in the Take Me Fishing Houston pilot project. Take Me Fishing, a nationwide initiative led by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, is designed to increase youth and family participation in fishing. Hutsell, with its large contingent of Hispanic students, represented an ideal demographic target for the emerging program. And, with the pilot program’s multifaceted emphasis on outdoor learning, science, natural history, research and recreation, the program was just what Davidson was looking for.
At Hutsell, students now participate in an integrated angler education curriculum that starts off by introducing students to the basics — angler and water safety, casting, bait selection and knot tying. From there, the students graduate to learning about fish identification, aquatic habitats, fishing ethics, conservation and natural resources issues. They collect data from the fish they catch, and use basic research and quantitative principles to analyze that data and to advance their understanding of science and math.
In just a few short years, the fruits of the Take Me Fishing partnership have been dramatic. The school’s passing rates on the math and science components of the TAKS have gone up, way up. In 2009, the school achieved a greater than 90 percent passing rate in the math TAKS tests given to the third, fourth and fifth grades. Remarkably, 98 percent of the fifth-graders passed the science TAKS test, with over 50 percent of them scoring so high as to earn a mastery rating. Recognizing that achievement, the Texas Education Agency awarded Hutsell an exemplary rating.
Fishing has now become so much a part of the school culture that prospective employees at the school are asked as part of their interviews about their fishing experiences and how they would support the Take Me Fishing initiative if hired by the school. Wow!
Texas is blessed with an abundance of inland waters available to anglers of all ages with all interests and experience levels. As you will read in this issue, from trout in the Guadalupe to crappie in Toledo Bend to big bass in O.H Ivie, there are ample opportunities to wet your line and spend time on our state’s public waters. And, unlike the kids at Hutsell, you won’t have to worry about a test afterward!
Thanks for caring about Texas’ wild things and wild places. They need you more than ever.