The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) has received the 2019 Diversity Outreach and Education Award from the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) at their annual meeting in Hilton Head, South Carolina this week. The Oklahoma agency was recognized for forging fruitful partnerships to introduce students from diverse backgrounds to the outdoors through fishing.
“At a time when young people in cities are increasingly disconnected from nature and the outdoors, especially those from diverse backgrounds who may lack access or opportunity for time in nature, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is providing a model for many other organizations facing similar challenges across our nation,” said J. D. Strong, ODWC Executive Director.
In 2017 the Department partnered with the Paul George Foundation to help introduce the Oklahoma Fishing in the Schools Program into more urban classrooms. In addition to being a professional basketball player (formerly with the Oklahoma City Thunder), George is also an avid angler. Since 2011, the Fishing in the Schools Program had recruited nearly 400 schools, and George saw a way to use this established platform to reach more diverse urban audiences.
The Department and the foundation picked 13 new schools in the Oklahoma City metro area to be part of the new PG13 fishing program. Teachers received training to teach the Fishing in the Schools Program in their classrooms. The 13 schools also received tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game from the Paul George Foundation—students got a chance at a ticket by writing essays on what they love about the outdoors. The partnership grew in 2018-2019, with the foundation providing $8,000 to cover transportation costs for participating schools.
Additionally many of those kids will have a new opportunity for fishing access, thanks to a partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Paul George Foundation, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Foundation and the City of Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department. This partnership is leveraging $50,000 to build an accessible fishing dock for South Park Lake in Oklahoma City. This brand new dock will be open to the public free of charge and is within easy walking distance for neighborhood children. South Lake Park Lake is one of the official Close To Home Fishing Areas in municipalities around the state.
Most of the schools involved with the Fishing in the Schools Program were mainly rural. The partnership with the Paul George Foundation helped the program reach a broader and more diverse audience in an urban center. Oklahoma City school district students are 54 percent Hispanic, 22 percent African-American, 14 percent Caucasian and the rest Native American and Asian.
Many schools took advantage of the ODWC’s Arcadia Conservation Education Area in the northern part of the metro area. Students got to fish in the education pond and walk the three-quarter mile education trail where they learned about different habits and species they might find in Oklahoma.