Burroughs goes ice fishing
LYNNHURST — There are certain things you just can’t teach in a gymnasium, which is why Burroughs Community School physical education teachers Lowell Peterson and Peter Hill so often take their students out of it.
In the spring and fall students canoe, kayak and ride bicycles around nearby Lake Harriet. In the winter they cross-country ski and snowshoe up and down frozen Minnehaha Creek, which runs just behind the school.
“We go on adventures,” Hill said.
Their Feb. 11 adventure was a first for the school. About 150 second-grade students marched class-by-class through the snow to Lake Harriet where they engaged in that quintessential Minnesota pastime: ice fishing.
It may not have the aerobic component of relay races or team handball — two other events the school’s February physical education calendar — but ice fishing can get the heart pumping, like when a 3-foot muskie swims into view of the underwater fish camera, raising tiny cries of “Fish! Fish!” and inspiring one parent volunteer to run home for some heavy-duty tackle.
Hill said ice fishing was the latest addition to a physical education curriculum that includes traditional activities like jump rope and team sports side-by-side with experiences that promote lifetime fitness and a love of the outdoors.
“We expose them to as many activities as we can, and what we’re hoping for is they take some of these (activities) and bring them into their adolescence and adulthood,” he said.
A lurking muskie
A rented party tent paid for by the Burroughs Parent Teacher Association served as a fishing shack for the day’s outing. Students sat on overturned milk crates and five-gallon buckets set near each of the shack’s 28 fishing holes.
Beneath the ice was what experienced angler Chris Schlee deemed “a real nice piece of structure” — an underwater ridge jutting out from the Lake Harriet shoreline. The former Burroughs employee, now head engineer at Elizabeth Hall International Elementary School, he took the afternoon off to help bait hooks and share his passion for angling.
“I go out a lot, much to my wife’s chagrin,” Schlee said.
It was Schlee’s camera beaming back images of the prowling muskie. He reckoned the muskie was there for the same reason they were: the tiny perch and bluegill sunfish hiding in the shallows beneath the shack.
The first class of about 30 students managed to land just two of those panfish during their hour on the ice. Watching them slowly paddle in a makeshift livewell cut into the ice, another guest, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries specialist Mark Nemeth, said it was the quality of the experience, and not the quantity of fish, that counted most.
“These are the next generation of anglers and they’re also the next generation of stewards for the environment, and the fact that they’re having a connection with [the environment] will be really important for these children and for the resources,” Nemeth said.
A ‘model’ program
Also crowded into the tent were James Gostomski, an assistant professor of K-12 physical education, and about 10 of his students from University of Wisconsin–River Falls. Gostomski, who previously worked alongside Peterson in Minneapolis Public Schools, said he regularly brought his students to Burroughs to observe a “model” physical education program in action.
“They take advantage of all the resources they have around the school,” Gostomski said. “They’re teaching a great lifetime activity; they’re teaching them how to fish. A lot of these kids wouldn’t have this opportunity if it wasn’t for them.”
The tent erupted in screams when at about 11 a.m. Sebastian Mack pulled in the third fish of the day, a perch. But it wasn’t all excitement — no fishing outing is — and judging from the tired slouches and bored expressions on a few faces, certain Burroughs students may never see the appeal in ice fishing.
Hill might argue the experience is valuable, nonetheless.
Out on the ice, he recalled a recent visit from two former Burroughs students, now freshmen at Washburn High School, who dropped by his office in January. They looked like they’d been working out, and when Hill asked them what they’d been up to they replied they were in training to join the Washburn cross-country ski team.
Had they skied since leaving Burroughs? he asked. No, but they’d remember what to do, they assured him.
“I’m convinced that if you give people experiences they can grow from them down the road,” he said.
“You know how it is: The older you get, for a lot of people, the less active you get,” he continued. “So, hopefully, they can find something that we do here that can bring them to that next level of health and fitness.”