Why I do what I do.

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I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where fishing and hunting were part of everyday life. My father, Howard, was and still is at the age of 75 a true outdoorsman. He taught me how to fish, hunt, operate a boat and catch alligators; but most importantly, my father taught me how to care for and respect all of nature. My mother, Darlene, would sit on the bank of a pond all day and fish. I can remember asking her why she was sitting in the sun all day and not getting a bite yet still had a smile on her face. Her response? She told me, “It sure beats being inside all day.” After a lifetime of enjoying hunting and fishing, I still very much enjoyed being in the great outdoors but felt like something was missing. I had taught my son and daughters what I knew about nature and really enjoyed spending time with them and my wife outdoors, yet I still felt like there was more I could do.

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I had spent the better part of 20 years teaching English and Physical Education in public schools in Florida and South Carolina, but it was not until about five years ago that I found my true purpose. Mary Runyon, the principal at West Ashley High School, stopped me in the hall one day and asked if I would be interested in teaching an outdoor education class. Of course, I told her I would love to but that there were no supplies or even a room in which to teach. Her response was to tell me to make it happen and that she would help me in any way she could. So, I set my mind on building the program. I spoke to every sporting goods store, pawn shop, hardware store and person I could about getting the supplies I needed to start. After cleaning out an old storeroom in the back of the football field house to use for a classroom, I started with 27 dedicated students who worked very hard to obtain the everyday things we needed to run the class. Since I could not find a curriculum for outdoor education, I developed one from scratch. The first year was hard for both my students and me. Thankfully, my wife, Danna, knew the program was very important to me and was very supportive, as the class was primarily funded by whatever I would beg for or buy.

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After the first semester began, everything slowly fell into place; I spent countless hours making PowerPoints for fishing, survival training, archery, hunter safety and many other subjects. Most importantly during this time, I found my passion for teaching again. The program soon exploded with interest from the students and quickly became the only class I teach. Four years later, we are housed in a 1,400 square-foot trailer on campus and have slowly added equipment as we have raised the funds to do so. Currently, I have over 80 kids per year in the program with a waiting list as well. Our program has become the model for outdoor education in the state of South Carolina, and I feel as if I have finally found my purpose. Being able to share my knowledge about my love for the outdoors, with kids who may not have the chance to experience what being a sportsman is about, is my passion. Many of us take stepping onto a boat to go fishing or gearing up for an evening hunt for granted, and what I enjoy most is exposing kids to those things when they otherwise may have never known what nature has to offer.

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We are fortunate here, at West Ashley High School, to have two ponds on campus for fishing. I never get tired of the smiles and excitement when a child catches their first fish. I always take a picture and print two copies – one for them and one to hang on the wall of the classroom. As I pause to look around my classroom, I am still amazed at the pictures of smiling faces holding up their fish. When students come running into my class at 7:15 am to show me that they bought their hunting license or to bring a picture of the deer they killed, it shows me that we are doing things right in our program. We are turning today’s kids into tomorrow’s sportsmen, people who love and respect all of nature, show ethics, and above all, people who know what nature has to offer.

That is why I do what I do.

Thomas Cousins
Outdoor Pursuits Teacher
West Ashley High School