“Can I kill it?” Elizabeth Werbiskis asked Karen Holson of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF).
Werbiskis was distracted by a large insect crawling in her direction just as she and her classmates assumed a shooting stance and steadied their archery bows.
She would use her shoe, not an arrow, Werbiskis clarified, to stop the bug.
Safety first, reinforced Holson, noting that Werbiskis and her classmates were already poised on the firing line and should not go beyond it.
“It’s coming our way,” added Holson. “We’ll get it.”
With that reassurance, the Virginia Beach Middle School (VBMS) PE teacher nocked her arrow and followed the remaining nine steps to archery success.
Werbiskis was among a dozen elementary school and middle school PE teachers who spent one day in a certification process led by Holson, VDGIF outdoor education program supervisor as well as Virginia’s state coordinator for the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP).
The course is one of the school division’s professional learning program (PLP) options for PE teachers, and Larkspur Middle School’s mat room was transformed into an archery range for the day.
Once educators are certified, their school receives equipment to set up their own ranges – a backdrop net, five targets, 12 bows, a bow rack, arrows and a tool kit for repairs.
“We have some grant funding from manufacturers and other sources for the department,” explained Holson.
“So if I have two teachers in a school who are going to implement the program during school time, we give them a loaner set,” she continued. “If all those teachers leave, then we recycle the set to another school. As long as they are doing the program, they are welcome to use the equipment in their classes and for after school clubs.”
That’s exactly what PE teachers at the session plan to do or have been doing already.
Sharon Sawyer said her school, Plaza Middle, has offered archery as a choice in PE class and during intramural time after school. She attended the recent PLP session as a refresher course.
“Oh, they love it! They love it,” Sawyer said when asked how students react to becoming archers.
“It’s something new. It’s something that you see on TV,” she added. “If you give them something new, they thrive on something new. How many of our kids get an opportunity to shoot a bow and arrow?”
Kelly Bradley, who used to work with Sawyer at Plaza, has seen the same positive reaction from students at Brandon Middle School where she works now.
“It’s different. It’s an individual sport. They’re getting individual glory,” Bradley said.
Her school set up an afterschool archery tournament and gives awards to the top female and male participants at all three grade levels. They also included archery as one of the sessions for its popular “pop-up” classes this year.
“Students and teachers got to come after school and take archery. One PE teacher taught it. I taught a hip hop class. There were lots of options,” Bradley said.
Pop-up classes. Tournaments. Afterschool clubs. Teachers joining the conversation asked more questions to get more ideas for their own schools.
“We have a ping pong club, rock climbing club, skateboard club,” said Werbiskis. “We have a lot of clubs that aren’t your run-of-the-mill sports, which is what most of our kids kind of do. Our kids would be excited about this. There are two of us here today, so we’ll have the knowledge to bring it back and get the kids interested in it, I think.”
She continued to think it through.
“We could either do archery as a full unit with each teacher or in rotating groups. Maybe two groups will do tennis and we’ll do archery. Then we’ll flip flop. I think the kids will love it. It’s different.”
Also thinking about instructional opportunities were elementary school PE teachers who were invited to attend archery training for the first time this summer. They can opt to introduce the sport to fourth- and fifth-graders as they deem appropriate.
“I could see doing it with a class, not the whole grade level,” said Lilli Shouldis, PE teacher at New Castle Elementary School. “Start out with a club first and see how it goes. The kids really like all the new stuff.”
“I think we’ve seen a change toward more lifetime sports,” Shouldis added, “and the kids that don’t like regular PE – the dribbling, the running, the cardio, even though we do all that – maybe this will really gear them up.”
Red Mill Elementary School PE teacher Ashlyn Parker agreed.
“We did different outdoor things and they really liked it,” she said. “We did a week when we did surfing one day and brought in a bunch of surfboards. We did kayaking. We have a rockwall. So this might be something you could do.”
Parker used “might” because she wasn’t pleased with her first round of practice.
“I think we’ll see how it goes the rest of the day because I’m a pretty bad shot. And they keep telling me I have to model it,” said Parker laughing.
Pregnant with her second son due in September, she noted her belly may have something to do with it.
“I feel off balance,” she said with a smile.
Parker need not have worried. Her shot improved with every round of practice, as it did for her peers.
To earn their certification, each participant had to take a turn instructing the others. They led teachers through the 11 steps of the archery process and supervised their shots.
“Safety is the number one priority,” said Sawyer. “So you’ve got to go through the process of those 11 steps and teach those to the students. After that, everything just flows smoothly.”
Holson, an archer with 15 years of experience who has helped bring the program to 800 schools in Virginia, highlighted the inclusivity of the activity for students.
“What’s really neat is when you’ve got little, little kids shooting next to big kids and they are high-fiving each other. It’s great to see. Archery is one of those sports that is very accessible to all the kids and all the kids can do it,” she said.
“Their strength increases; their confidence increases; their self-esteem increases,” she added.
Any student in grades four through 12 can draw a bow, according to Holson. The secret to success is in the release.
“If you’ve got a good release, then you’ll get nice straight arrows,” she said. “Once you’ve perfected that release and it’s consistent, you’ve got it.”
So, practice makes perfect?
“Good practice makes for good shots,” said Holson with a smile and turned to give PE teachers more practice.
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