By Brandy Dixon

3-8 grade teacher at Holy Ghost Lutheran School in Monroe, MI

Shared with permission from the Southeast Michigan Bowhunters Chapter of Safari Club International

Have you ever seen a soft-spoken kindergarten teacher shoot a rifle with deadly accuracy and lightning-quick speed? I have. Have you ever witnessed a high school special education teacher (who has never been out west) get to see her first moose up close and personal? I have. And have you ever watched a 7th grade teacher compete in a 3D archery competition with only about a week of archery experience…ever? I have.

I have done all of these things, because, this summer, I had the opportunity to attend one of the most unique professional development sessions there is: American Wilderness Leadership School (AWLS).

AWLS is a week-long summer camp for teachers, located near Jackson Hole, Wyoming and run by Safari Club International Foundation.

Let me share a bit of my AWLS story with you:

I arrived at the beautiful Jackson Hole airport, with a backdrop of the Grand Teton mountains greeting me like noblemen greeting a queen. I was also greeted by an AWLS instructor and whisked away on a shuttle bus. The other teachers and I were taken down a long, winding, and very bumpy dirt road to the AWLS camp.

Somewhere along the way we lost cell service, and with that distraction aside, the wilderness wrapped us up in her arms for the week and welcomed us to our new home-away-from-home.

The camp actally went by in a blur of activity and learning. The instructors kept us busy from 6:45am until about 9pm, making for long days for me—a 6-month pregnant woman with serious Michigan-time-zone-jet-lag.

It was worth it, however.

During the week, I learned a lot about wildlife conservation and ecology in the classroom, but what made this experience unique were the hands-on opportunities. I learned survival skills, new archery skills, how to identify some common aquatic macroinvertebrates, and much more.

I had previous experience with pistols, but this week was the first time I have ever shot a rifle or a shotgun. I learned not to be afraid of the longer guns, and I am even proud to say I won our group’s rifle competition—much to my surprise. (My shotgun skills, however, leave little to be desired!)  Something else that surprised me was how much I enjoyed tying flies for fly fishing. This was probably one of my favorite activities of the week, and I can’t wait to use those same flies to catch some fish!

We took field trips to Pinedale, Jackson Hole, The National Elk Refuge, and Grand Teton National Park. The other participants went on a whitewater rafting trip at the end of the week, while my pregnant-self was finally able to take a much-needed nap.

I made new friends and connections during this trip, not only with other teachers but with the instructors as well.  Our crew grew so close that we now have our own Facebook group in which to communicate and share photos and ideas throughout the school year. This trip was a great one for making connections, and in the education world, connections are very important.

I have never been able to experience anything like this in all of my life, and I know this trip will greatly impact how I teach this school year. My goals are to bring the National Archery in the Schools program to my school and to use the Project WILD curriculum regularly in my classroom. I want to try to bring my students outside into nature more often and strive for more ways to get them involved in science topics in a hands-on way. I already have plans to do some aquatic macroinvertebrate sampling with my science group this year. I want to continue to partner with the Michigan DNR to bring outside resources into my classroom, and I have already made a contact with MUCC (Michigan United Conservation Council) about getting their TRACKS outdoor magazine in my class.

All of these experiences would have never been possible without the support of the Southeast Michigan Bowhunters chapter of Safari Club International. Without your blessing and your sponsorship, I would never have been able to attend AWLS. From the bottom of my heart I wish to thank you for your kindness. You have not only impacted my own life, but you—in the classic ripple effect of throwing a stone into still water—have impacted the lives of all of the students I will teach this year and in years to come.

Thank you for spreading the important message of conservation to the generations that will follow our own. You are truly making a difference.