CLASSROOM OF THE WEEK | New hunter safety course at Hoosac aims to build wilderness skills

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CHESHIRE — On Thursday afternoon, six Hoosac Valley High School students let quivers of arrows fly across the gymnasium floor.

Thwoomp. Thwoomp. Thwoomp.

They pierced the stationary target with quiet, swift precision, dozens landing directly into or just a ring outside of the coveted bull's-eye.

A few months ago, this would have been a different scene.

"There were arrows on the sides, on the floor, underneath the curtain. They've really improved," said Jay Sniezek.

For the first time this semester, Sniezek, the school's physical education teacher, stepped outside of the gym to teach a daily hunter safety education class for the fall semester, at the encouragement of his principal.

"All last summer I was nervous in planning for this. I had never been in a classroom. But all the things I was teaching them, I do on my own, so that was the natural part of it," he said.

Sniezek said he was around high school age when he became involved in outdoor sportsmen and hunting activities, from fishing to archery to animal tracking.

"I want them to have something that they can do outside of school, that they can use for the rest of their lives, like I still do," he said.

The teacher's course uses Massachusetts Hunter Education Program and National Archery in the Schools Program standards, guidelines and curricula, married with his years of practical expertise.

The small group of students taking the pilot course included only one active hunter, senior David Lennon. The rest — including juniors Katie Bentz, Joe Delmolino, Izaha Stubbs, and sophomores Gavin Bolt and Jessica Isbell — each learned new skills along the way.

Delmolino, for example, wasn't too keen at first about getting up in a tree stand he and his classmates learned how to set up, from bolting steps to the tree trunk to securing it with a safety line.

"But I did it anyway. It was cool," he said. The group learned how to use a full body harness for an extra layer of protection while perched in a stand some 10 to 12 feet above the forest floor.

Bentz said another memorable activity was learning how to track blood from a wounded prey in the snow.

"Mr. Sniezek mixed up some fake blood and basically we had to follow it through the woods," she said.

Dressing for the weather and long days in the elements, as well as learning about snow and ice safety have also been part of their instruction.

The crowd favorite activity was the recent weeklong project of outdoor survival.

Splitting into two groups, the students built lean-tos, "basically a homemade shelter using natural materials found around you," Lennon explained.

The goal was for each group to make a single-side shelter by gathering, cutting and layering branches and leaves. But it quickly turned into a competition of bigger and better when one group decided to make an A-frame-style shelter, and the other group subsequently following suit.

"They were both really well built. I'm sure if you went outside today, you'd still find them standing," Sniezek said.

After building shelter, the teams learned how to build fires without matches, but a mix of magnesium, dry kindling, and ferrocerium metal starter which sparks when struck with another blade. The students celebrated the fruits of their labor by roasting hotdogs and marshmallows and hanging out in their shelters.

The course and semester wrap up next week, but both the students and teacher hope that the program will find a more permanent home at Hoosac, with the addition of things like camping and fishing trips.

"It opens up your mind to find new interests in nature," Lennon said.


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