A Leader for Outdoor Skills Training in Schools

**Special from South Carolina Wildlife magazine**
See the full story in the SCW September-October 2018 issue.

When we stop to think about our favorite places and special memories, these nostalgic snippets almost always involve time spent in the great outdoors with family or friends. And studies prove that brushing up on our outdoor skills can increase self confidence and help develop leadership skills. So, with all the benefits available to us by simply hitting the trail or going fishing with a friend, what’s holding us back?

The Outdoor Pursuits portable classroom is a haven for West Ashley High School students interested in learning nature-related outdoor skills. A long list of students patiently wait for their turn to take this popular class.

As the Physical Education Department Chair at West Ashley High, Coach Thomas Cousins could clearly see the growing disconnect between teenagers and the outdoors, or between families and the outdoors. “We teach our kids how to play sports,” says Cousins. “Why don’t we teach them life-long skills like hunting and fishing?”

Surrounded by a mecca of recreational opportunities in the coastal zone, the students of West Ashley were expressly interested in learning how to fish, hunt and camp. Cousins developed a new game plan. With support from the school principal, he carefully crafted an outdoor skills class that would cover all the bases, including safety. And bit by bit, he started to collect outdoor gear for his classroom, a portable building right next to the football field. Right out of the gate, “Outdoor Pursuits” became one of the most popular classes at the high school.

A long list of students at West Ashley High School are patiently waiting their turn for a spot in the popular outdoor skills class led by the long-time football coach. The Outdoor Pursuits class, offered three times per day at West Ashley High School, covers hunting safety, boating safety, marksmanship, survival training, fishing, archery, firearm safety, camping and backpacking, tracking and wildlife conservation.

This class was also the catalyst for the archery and shotgun teams that Cousins now coaches. Both teams compete at the local and state levels, finishing at the top multiple times.

Coach Thomas Cousins (left) and the Clay Busters senior varsity ladies team from West Ashley are shown receiving the 2018 SCDNR Sporting Clays Open first place trophy, presented by Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund Executive Director Jim Goller (center).


Cousins receives Champion of Hunter Education award

As a well-loved coach and outdoor education teacher, Cousins has garnered the support of SCDNR hunter and boater education staff such as SCDNR Sergeant Jim Shelton, who remarks, “I have seen Coach Cousins at times be a teacher, coach, parent and shoulder to lean on for the kids he so loves. He continues to give tirelessly every day.”

Cousins was one of six to receive the 2018 Champions of Hunter Education award from the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA).

“The SCDNR was kind enough to nominate me for the Gallery of Guns Champions of Hunter Education award, and dang if I did not win,” Cousins says. “I’m really humbled by that one.”

The award is presented by IHEA, USA Champions of Hunter Education, recognizing hunter education instructors who “have broken the confines of average teaching, giving tirelessly to the future of hunting and setting standard within their state for safe and ethical hunting.”

“Coach continues to exemplify a dedication to the young people of our state,” Sergeant Shelton says. “Gallery of Guns recognizes the top six hunter ed instructors in the United States. Coach was considered to be one of the top six. No other hunter ed instructor in our state has ever been nominated for this award or placed in the top six in the country.”

All recognized instructors receive a Ruger® American rifle and are featured in the International Hunter Education Association-USA Hunter & Shooting Sports Education Journal.


A word from his students

During 2018, West Ashley students Jay-Quan Bailey and Chandler Kahler finally got their turn to take the Outdoor Pursuits class.

Football team receiver Jay-Quan Bailey wants to major in engineering.

“Outdoor Pursuits is about learning how to survive, how to make a fire . . . don’t panic, but focus. There are lots of foods in the wild. And you can hunt and fish to survive. We learn how to track animals. We also learn what to bring on a trip in case of an emergency. We went camping and made a fire. It was the first time I tried venison. We also ate wild turkey. I’ll continue to fish and hunt. It’s lots of fun and you can be off on your own, be yourself.

Coach Cousins is a great teacher! He taught me a lot of things I didn’t know. I can look back and see how he taught me a lot about life. How to be independent, responsible.”


Chandler Kahler
has enjoyed dance team competition during her high school years, however this trained dancer was hoping to get a spot in Coach Cousins’ Outdoor Pursuits class before she graduated.

“Since my freshman year, I have been trying so hard to get in this class. I’ve enjoyed every lesson. This class is very eye-opening. Coach Cousins is the perfect teacher for this class. He’s the friendliest, warmest teacher and like a school parent.

He taught us how to make all the fires. This has been really great, especially for girls. Now we don’t need help, we can do it on our own. During our tracking lesson, we put camo on. We went into the woods to hide. I loved it. People got really intense.”

RESOURCES:

The SCDNR is available to help your school or community offer outdoor skills training to students. For more information, contact the SCDNR Law Enforcement Hunter/Boater education office at 1-800-277-4301 or visit dnr.sc.gov/education/hunted. The SCDNR offers an array of educational programs and works alongside many other agencies and organizations to offer program assistance and resources: dnr.sc.gov/education/environed.

To learn more about the importance of nature in our everyday lives, visit natureofamericans.org or go to USFishWildlife.org to read about the benefits of outdoor skills training.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.