by Scott Moeller, Aquatic Education Specialist
The Pay It Forward package included all of the tools needed to take a group of kids fishing.
As the new school year gets underway across Minnesota, there are some very excited educators with some very new tools, ready to make a very big impact. Thanks to a unique project from MinnAqua, many qualified Minnesota educators and community leaders now have the fishing equipment they need to introduce their students and community groups to fishing.
Dubbed the “Pay it Forward” project, MinnAqua launched the first-of-its-kind project last spring, offering a limited number of complete fishing equipment kits to educators across the state.
The project was open to the hundreds of classroom teachers, scout leaders, 4H leaders, and fishing enthusiasts who are already familiar with MinnAqua’s Fishing: Get in the Habitat! Leader’s Guide. This national award-winning angling and aquatic education curriculum consists of 39 complete lessons as well as scores of other useful features and appendices.
“The intent of this initiative was to keep empowering educators,” says MinnAqua coordinator Jenifer Matthees. “In addition to giving educators the curriculum resources they need through the Fishing: Get in the Habitat! Leader’s Guide, MinnAqua is making it a priority to help get fishing equipment into the hands of those educators who are in the best position to introduce fishing to young people.”
One such educator is McLeod County 4H coordinator Jill Grams. As a grant recipient, she now has fishing equipment consisting of rod bags filled with complete rod and reel combos, a tackle box with starter tackle, a pair of leader’s fishing vests, and a safety bag complete with personal floatation devices, a rescue bag, and first aid kit.
Mary Jo Taintor, a teacher from Silver Bay's William Kelley Elementary School, receives her Pay It Forward package from Nadine Meyer, MinnAqua Education Specialist.
“We are so excited to have this equipment here in McLeod County,” says Grams. “We are going to use these rods and reels at so many 4H events, and make them available to other community groups who don’t have access to such equipment. This is a great idea for giving educators the tools they need to get kids hooked on fishing and improve their communities.”
In exchange for this equipment, eligible educators were asked to submit a web-based description of how they intended to make use of the equipment and extend their gift through additional fishing education or community outreach projects – to “Pay It Forward.”
Among the top 20 qualified grant applicants who were recently awarded their fishing kits, the “Pay It Forward” project ideas included such things as: partnering older students with younger students in and out of the classroom, involving students in working towards the construction of new fishing piers and other lake access projects, developing youth fishing day camps, matching retired seniors with youth on fishing excursions, training 4H and scout leaders, as well as making the rods and reels available to underserved community members.
Many of the fishing kits have already been put to use at 4H camps, community education events, and scout gatherings across the state this summer. Other kits are ready to be used by hundreds of school children as the new school year starts up.
“We are very excited to make use of our fishing equipment,” says Mary Jo Taintor, a first grade teacher at William Kelley Elementary in Silver Bay. “With all of the economic troubles going around, this is GOOD news!”
Due to its success, the program was even extended to an additional round of 13 applicants. In all, a total of 976 new rods and reels are now in the capable hands of energetic youth educators throughout the state as a result of MinnAqua’s “Pay it Forward” program.