“Archers to the line!”
As she focused on a brightly-colored bull’s-eye several yards in front of her, the girl tucked her long brown hair behind her ear, raised the bow she was holding to chest level, and pulled back firmly on the string until it almost touched her nose. The instructor beside her adjusted the angle of the girl’s chin and shoulders, and told her to concentrate only on where she was aiming. Then, with a slight shift of three fingers, she released the arrow, sending it ‘whooshing’ through the air to strike the target.
The girl, a seventh grader at Mount Madonna School (MMS) was participating in a hands-on archery lesson offered through the MMS middle school Outdoor Adventure/Life Skills Program.
In preparation for this lesson at Mount Madonna County Park’s archery range (located just a few miles from MMS), students spent a couple of hours earlier in the week on campus learning about archery safety and practice from Mike Pierce, a world champion archer, and owner of Predators Archery in Gilroy. He is the current world record holder for shooting without sights on a compound bow, and counts 35 world champions among his students.
“What makes archery so interesting and fun for me to teach is that it’s a mini life lesson,” Pierce told the students during their first meeting. “It’s all about patience and focus; which is also the secret to doing your school work and making your life easier.”
"I really enjoyed the archery because I had never used a compound bow before,” shared eighth grader Phoebe Grant. “I also thought it was really cool to work with a world-class archer, who has split two arrows during his career!"
Pierce and his team of instructors set up six stations, and students lined up to take turns shooting at paper targets mounted on hay bales.
“I got a bull’s-eye!” shouted an excited boy, as his second arrow struck the target’s yellow zone.
“Way to go!” said a nearby classmate giving him a ‘high-five.’
“I don’t usually participate in things like this,” said eighth grader Ruby Bracher. “I was surprised at how well I did – all of my arrows hit the yellow zone. It was pretty cool!”
As the lesson progressed, instructors fine-tuned students’ technique and stance, and head, arm and shoulder positions.
“When you shoot, keep staring at where you’re aiming for a full two seconds after releasing the arrow,” reminded Pierce. “Do not look at the target to see if you hit it. If you do, you’ll move the bow and you’ll miss.”
“Shooting with these compound bows was a lot easier than with the long bows I’ve shot with previously,” commented eighth grader Cyrus Kamkar. “There was more technique involved and the instructors helped a lot.”
MMS’ Outdoor Adventure program is designed to integrate physical education with health, safety and environmental awareness – along with other life skills, including communication, positive character development and teamwork – in an outdoor context.
“As participants in this course, students will be immersed in a broad range of experiences,” shared teacher Matt Meachen. “In addition to archery, they’ll engage in wilderness safety, orienteering, group challenges, building wilderness shelters, a low ropes activities, traditional fitness activities, habitat restoration and awareness and even knot tying.”
“The experiences and tasks will challenge students’ minds and bodies as we use Mother Nature to better understand and strengthen ourselves, each other and the natural, physical space that we occupy,” added teacher Bob Caplan. A life skills curriculum is also an explicit part of the integrated class.
“Our objectives with this course are to improve students’ physical fitness, self-awareness, self-esteem and confidence, and hand- eye coordination,” said Caplan. “Our team of teachers [which includes MMS faculty members Ashley England, Oscar Perez, Rami Vissell and Tina Pendleton] is also focusing on helping students to develop the ability to respond positively in an urgent, intense or dangerous moment; and to develop a sense of mindfulness within both group and individual moments. We also hope to achieve trust, camaraderie and teamwork within the group.”
What are your own fondest outdoor memories? Does your livelihood involve the outdoors? To help achieve their program goals, the teaching team encourages anyone who would like to offer hands-on skills, connections, resources or support to contact them atOutdoored@mountmadonna.org.
“We would love to have you onboard!” said Meachen. Upcoming projects under consideration include training for every middle school student to become CPR and first aid certified; a field trip to Pacific Edge, an indoor rock climbing gym in Santa Cruz where students would have the opportunity to become belay-certified; and additional small-group archery lessons.
“We want students to learn to evaluate circumstances and take calculated risks,” said teacher Oscar Pérez, “and to work on interpersonal skills such as conflict resolution, and communication styles, along with learning to overcome emotional challenges that can sometimes accompany physical tasks.”
“Above all, whether they’re taking aim at a target with a bow and arrow, learning outdoor survival skills, or engaging in a game with their classmates during lunch,” reflected Meachen, “we hope students will achieve a deep love for playing in the great outdoors.”
Leigh Ann Clifton is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for Mount Madonna School, and has lived in the Morgan Hill area for nearly 30 years. She enjoys hiking in the back country and spending time outdoors with her family.