Alex Kocher (Bowsher) holds a longnose gar that he and fellow Wildlife Management students Will Gilbert III (Waite), left, Leigha Kelley (Waite), and Tres' Black (Start) netted during field work on the Maumee River.
BILL HOEFFLIN Enlarge
Alex Kocher excelled in his first year at Hocking College, where he is studying fisheries management. At 19, he is looking at the big picture and hoping to devote his career to protecting and preserving our wildlife and natural areas for generations to come.
Kocher found that most of what was covered in his initial semesters in college was very familiar; much of it focused on material and hands-on experiences he had during his two years in the Wildlife Management program offered by Toledo Public Schools.
That specialized instruction, which has been around for more than 30 years, is now threatened with extinction if more high school students do not take advantage of this portal to careers in wildlife management, fisheries, forestry, environmental science, parks and recreation, and biology.
“It would be absolutely tragic if we lost that program,” said Kocher, “because once students get started, they fall in love with it. You don’t bury your head in a book; you are outside learning by doing things. It lets you go take the reins.”
Tracy Gallagher grabbed those reins nearly 25 years ago, and the 1988 Waite graduate is still utilizing the knowledge and experience she gained from the curriculum, which used to be known as the Natural Resources program, in her role as a ranger in the Metroparks system.
“On the majority of days, I call on what I learned in that program,”Gallagher said. “It gave me a great foundation for a career in this field. Let’s face it, regular high school is really not preparing you to go to work, but this program did. It gets you ready for the workplace.”
The Wildlife Management program, housed at the Natural Science Technology Center, is geared for juniors and seniors and is open to any student in TPS, home-schooled, or from out of the system, as long as they will be 16 by the start of the academic year. Students are bused to the facility, which is located adjacent to Toledo Botanical Garden, and spend the mornings in the Wildlife Management program. They return to their high school for the afternoon periods and are still permitted to participate in activities and athletics.
The Natural Science Technology Center offers an outdoor land lab and frequent trips to a nearby creek, the Metroparks, wildlife areas, two annual camping trips, and an in-house aquaculture project.
Students also learn skills in the proper use and maintenance of chainsaws, clearing saws, wood chippers, log splitters, utility tractors, skid steers, and a bucket lift. They use seines to study fish life in area waterways, learn to use climbing gear for tree work and pruning, and get instruction in cross country skiing and camping.
“Besides all of those skills and the basic natural resources knowledge, I also got experience in leadership, teamwork, and in public speaking,” Gallagher said. “The program gives you so many skills that you can use in everyday life, no matter what occupation you end up in. The things you learn in this program work everywhere you could go in your career.”
Hoefflin said enrollment in the Wildlife Management program has been on the decline for the last few years and is now down to just seven students. If more students do not get involved for the 2013-14 school year, the program’s future is in doubt.
“The biggest problem we hear about from the parents is that they’ve never heard of the program and were not made aware that it is available,” Hoefflin said. “That is really unfortunate, because every student that has become involved in the program sticks around and completes it. They end up loving it.”
Kocher, a Bowsher grad, credits Hoefflin with bringing his wealth of experience in the natural resources field directly to the classroom, workshop, or field study. Hoefflin is a graduate of the FFA program at Clay, and of Hocking College where he earned an associate degree in wildlife management. He has worked for the U.S. Forest Service, Maumee Bay State Park, and Toledo Metroparks.
“It helps so much that the teacher knows exactly what he is doing,” Kocher said. “He has been out there working in the field and has done just about everything we cover.”
“The whole program is set up to learn by doing,” Hoefflin said. “You are not taking tons of notes or carrying around a stack of textbooks. There is usually a short lesson, and then we immediately apply what we’ve covered with hands-on experiences.”
Instructor Bill Hoefflin said scheduling students to take part in the Wildlife Management program is a bit tricky, because they will need to work closely with the school counselors to get their core classes in the afternoons. He said it might take a little juggling, but in every case it is doable.
“That should never be something that keeps kids out of this program,” Kocher said about making a split-day schedule work. “This is far too valuable an opportunity. This program really prepares you for a job where you will love what you do. That’s exactly what it did for me.”
Gallagher said she found the prospect of losing the Wildlife Management program disturbing.
“It is very disconcerting to hear that the program might be in trouble,” she said. “I’d hate to see them cut back on it, because this is just the sort of training and real-world education a lot of kids need.”
The Wildlife Management program provides a well-marked pathway to a variety of careers, so the parents of TPS students will have to see to it the program moves off the endangered list. Their children should always have the option to explore the outdoors through this unique curriculum, so protecting it from extinction is vital.
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Matt Markey at: