Aiming to improve outdoor skills

6th-graders check out gun safety

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001

It was no more than a few dozen feet from the holding area to the Juneau Gun Club range, but for a group of Floyd Dryden Middle School sixth-graders Tuesday there was a lot of ground to cover.

Earplugs? Check. Pay attention to the introductory safety lesson.

Now, come forward, eight at a time and be sure to put on shooting glasses. Sit with your one-on-one mentor and pay attention to the firearms safety instruction.

Only after all those steps are done, under the mentor's guidance, pick up a .22-caliber rifle and try a few shots at your target.

That safety instruction was part of an outdoor-education program involving all Floyd Dryden Middle School sixth-graders over the past two days a program that has been staged in smaller Southeast communities but is making its first trip to Juneau this year.

Dryden Principal Tom Milliron and Assistant Principal Jackie Kookesh, who knew of the program from its previous stops in villages such as Angoon and Gustavus, said it takes a broad-based approach.

"It's an outdoor skills program," Kookesh said. It involves "outdoor ethics, wildlife, ecology, first aid, orientation, survival skills in addition to the safe handling of firearms and shooting fundamentals. ... We always assume all kids in Southeast have that experience, but that's not true."

Dryden sixth-grade teacher Sandy Walter said she was surprised that, when students were asked on the first day, more than 75 percent of them said there was a gun in their home.

For those students, as well as others who may visit a home with a gun, program organizer Jon Lyman said it is important to learn in a formal environment the basics of firearms safety - such as keeping the muzzle in a safe direction and making sure a gun is unloaded before handling.

"You need to know what appropriate behavior around those firearms is," he said.

Sixth-grader Margaret Sekona said the program was the first time she had fired a weapon. "It was very scary; my hands were shaking," she said.

But, she said, knowing the safety precautions and having a mentor to guide her helped calm her fears.

Elsewhere on the Juneau Gun Club grounds, Alaska Army National Guard Sgt. Mac Metcalfe and Lt. Joshua Shrader gave a presentation on preparing for a safe hike or camping trip, setting up a safe camp and what to do should problems arise.

"It's really easy for anybody to get hurt," Metcalfe said. These lessons "are just basic, simple survival skills that anyone in Alaska should have some knowledge of."

Shrader spoke to the students about hiking safety from personal experience, having been rescued from Mount Roberts in July after falling 300 feet.

At the gun club and back at Floyd Dryden, students heard presentations on topics ranging from orienteering and map reading, to first aid with Capital City Fire and Rescue, to hunting laws with the Alaska State Troopers.

Students will take the state's hunter safety exam today as a wrap-up to this unit. In the spring, they will continue the program with units that include kayaking and cold-water survival.

Several organizers referred to this year's program as a trial run, but said its success likely will lead to a return engagement for sixth-graders next year.

Lyman said the program's success depends on a high number of volunteers.

"It's not hugely expensive, but it definitely requires the support of the community," he said.

This year, that support included more than 40 parents and dozens of volunteer coordinators and instructors.

"It's a wonderful example of a school-community partnership that has benefited over 220 students," Milliron said.

School district policy does not allow guns and other weapons on school grounds or at school-sponsored activities except for educational purposes.

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