PEYTON, Colo. – More than 80 special needs students gathered lakeside May 10 to explore one of Colorado’s top outdoor activities.
Roughly 100 yards of shoreline along Prospect Lake in Colorado Springs was devoted to Falcon School District 49’s annual fishing event.
Bonnie Mendenhall, District 49 adaptive physical education teacher for middle and high school students, started the event in 2006, after receiving a Future Fisherman Foundation grant for the required instructional materials.
The outing was commended by the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education in 2007 for supporting state learning standards and habitats. Mendenhall received the CAEE PreK-12 Education Award for coordinating the educational experience.
Each year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, through its “Fishing is Fun” grant program, has provided the district’s special needs students with new poles. The program funds angler education and expects everyone to eventually share what he or she learns.
This year, twelfth grader Shelby Bugarin, a special needs student at Sand Creek High School, taught fish biology. The 18-year-old shared anatomy charts that explained identifying characteristics, such as scale colors and fin locations.
Fourteen of her schoolmates arrived for the service learning opportunity, as participants in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program. Several are studying how to help students with disabilities acquire new skills.
They led stations that focused on knot tying, casting fishing line, catching a fish, fish biology and environmental science. Watching a jar of fresh water cloud with contaminants, representing common pollutants, the special needs students yelled, “yuk.”
Across a paved path, Josh Nehring, Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist, was standing over a mini pool with four rainbow trout. He told a group of onlookers, “never touch a fish with dry hands, you’ll remove their protective coating.”
While overseeing a fish handling station, Nehring encouraged students to wet their hands and feel a trout’s body and fin texture. He later offered help with removing hooks from fish caught in Prospect Lake, where rainbow trout is a top angler attraction.
The lake is stocked from March to May with 10- to 12-inch trout, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife 2013 Fishing Forecast.
“Our hope is they’ll continue fishing with their families,” said Mendenhall. “We’re hoping to give them a lifetime activity.”