Editor’s Note: John Annoni of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is an avid outdoorsman and a fulltime school teacher, as well as the founder of Camp Compass Academy. He is also the founder of the orange ribbon campaign called America’s Outdoor Heritage –Two Million Bullets.
During the eighth-grade year, our students get to go on from one to three hunts. When our students are in ninth grade, if an eighth grader doesn’t want to go on a hunt, the ninth grader can go on the hunt in place of the eight grader, and/or the ninth grader goes on a different type hunt that he/she hasn’t been on before. We view our ninth graders as leaders. We encourage them to stay in the program as leaders to give back to the program that has meant so much to them.
I think we have to take a new look at how to get young people interested in participating in outdoor activities. I’m afraid that oftentimes we think if we take a child hunting or fishing one time in that child’s life, we have done what we need to do to give that youngster a passion for the outdoors. However, we at Camp Compass Academy have learned that the teaching of outdoor skills to young people is a continuing-education program that needs to last for a minimum of 3 years, and even better from the sixth grade all the way through high school. You don’t teach a person to become a bass fisherman, a deer hunter or a turkey hunter by taking him or her on one hunting or fishing trip in his lifetime. Most of us who have a passion for the outdoors have been mentored by a family member or a friend over several years of hunting or fishing together. From the success we’ve seen with Camp Compass Academy, we’ve learned the longer our young people are able to be mentored in the ways of the outdoors, then the sooner they start mentoring younger children, and the deeper their passion for an outdoor lifestyle seems to grow.
Just as important as mentoring young people in outdoor skills is being successful with outdoor skills. When we take our students on hunting or fishing trips, we do everything we possibly can to make sure these students are successful. What started as an elementary-school program has developed to the level where we allow our students and encourage our students to remain a part of Camp Compass Academy all the way though the completion of high school. We have learned that if we can continue to mentor a student, and that young person continues to be successful in their outdoor endeavors, then that same student becomes a mentor for younger students, which means we have done our part. We have been very efficient in growing that person, not only as an outdoor enthusiast but also morally, socially and academically.
All the adults who teach at Camp Compass Academy are certified teachers. We have two teachers who have reached the level of master teachers. What we have started with and developed is a staff of professional educators, who have been taught how to teach youngsters. We have integrated their skills in teaching the outdoors as well as academics and moral and social behavior. Then we have our student mentors – older students mentoring younger students – who have come up through the program. We have a volunteer staff of over 200 people who help put on hunts and events that the students attend. Our volunteers are specialists who know how to put on deer hunts, turkey hunts, crow hunts, big game hunts, duck hunts and small game hunts for students. For instance, our turkey-hunting volunteers know well in advance when they’ll be taking students turkey hunting. So, before the hunt, they’ll try and find turkeys to which they can guide our students.
In the year 2000, Camp Compass Academy became a non-profit organization. Mossy Oak has been one of our strong corporate sponsors. Through all seven school grades, (sixth grade - twelfth grade) we have worked with thousands of young people. Right now we have 60 students on our hunting roster. However, remember, we’re not cranking out large numbers of students that we’ve spent one day with from sixth through twelfth grade. We stay with our kids. We continue to mentor these young people during the entire time. We believe that our long-term quality of outdoor mentoring is much-more important than spending a day, a weekend or maybe a week in the summer with a large number of kids. We realize you don’t prepare a student for college in one weekend, one year, one day in a year or one week in a year. To prepare for college, a youngster has to be taught for 12 years. We feel that to get a good quality outdoor education requires 3 to 6 years of mentoring.
Since I teach public school, I know that one 8-hour day of education isn’t going to help a student learn life skills or a profession. We believe the love of the outdoors is a lifestyle and requires quite a bit of time and mentoring to achieve. This reason is why we set up Camp Compass Academy to work with students over a long time and to allow them to experience multiple outdoor adventures over that time. Our sixth graders may spend about 3 hours a week with mentors at Camp Compass Academy. In a typical week for our eighth graders, they spend 2 hours mentoring our younger students after school, pack their gear on Thursday, load up in the truck on Friday after school, hunt all day on Saturday after earning the trips and come home on Sunday. They are getting much-more exposure to the outdoors as they grow in our program. For turkey and deer season, we may have one mentor for two students. During duck season, we may have four kids with two mentors and one guide.
We try and keep our mentor ratio at two to one to have plenty of time to teach our young people and let them enjoy hunting fishing and other outdoors skills. When we take our youngsters to dinners, we may have eight students for one mentor, or eight students for two mentors. At any one time, there may be four or five different programs, hunts or dinners all going on at the same time with different students and mentors. Camp Compass Academy is labor intensive and time intensive. We have learned that’s what’s required to make a difference in a young person’s life.
For more info about Camp Compass Academy, go to www.campcompass.org.