by Tracy Farr
Mount Pleasant Tribune
I went to Mount Pleasant Junior High the other morning, hoping to talk to Coach Van Bowen, but when I knocked on his classroom door, it was locked and he and his students were nowhere to be found.
Later, I learned that the last place you should ever look for Bowen is “inside.”
Bowen’s classroom is in a building next to the school’s gym – more of an outbuilding than classroom.
I knocked several more times on the door, but to no avail.
And then I heard voices off in the distance. The voices were coming from a patch of woods that is just behind the school.
And that is where I found Bowen, the school’s outdoor adventure teacher. He was keeping an eye on a group of students as they walked across three downed trees that had fallen across a dry creek bed.
Bowen was recently named the Outdoors Tomorrow Foundation Educator of the Year. He’ll be presented with the award at the Dallas Safari Club’s annual convention slated for Jan. 5.
I asked Bowen how he became the district’s outdoor adventure teacher.
“I’d been teaching for 30 some-odd years, and I went to the office and told them, Hey, if ya’ll ever come across something that’s kind of different, kind of off the wall a little bit, I’m game for it,” he told me. “The assistant principal at that time reached over into his desk and pulled out this envelope that had outdoor adventure on it and…”
A student walked up to Bowen and held out a muddied hand.
“What happened?” the student asked. “I can’t feel my fingers here.”
“Well,” said Bowen, “that’s because they’re cold.”
Someone behind us said, “Go wash your hands, Colton.”
Bowen continued his story about the assistant principal who “pulled out this envelope, and it had a list of stuff you had to do to get certified to teach boater education, hunter education,” he explained. “And so at that moment, we started getting the wheels going. That next year we offered outdoor adventure.”
Today, he teaches four classes of outdoor adventure at the junior high, with close to 200 students applying every year to be one of 60 students who will actually take the class.
During the year, the students learn about boater safety, hunting, and archery; they’ll learn how to cook with a Dutch oven, trap animals, kill snakes, and sometimes just have adventures like crossing fallen trees across dry creek beds.
“Look,” he said, pointing at students trying to walk across the logs. “You got kids swallowing fear, you got kids that are being a little risky with their behavior. They could fall, but they’re trying to work past that. They don’t even know. They just think they’re having a good time.”
“This is a chance to get kids outside. Get them out in the woods, outdoors, away from the cellphones,” he said. “Nobody’s playing Fortnight…they love playing that, but they’re not. They’re getting to do this sort of stuff. Down in the creeks, exploring, and having a great time.”
Bowen looked down at his watch and told his students it was time to head back to the classroom. As we walked up the hill back to school, he said, “I may be over extending it, but in my mind, I think the kids are getting more out of this than just getting out in the woods.”
And I agreed, thinking to myself that one of these days I might just have to head back into those woods and try my hand at crossing that creek bed, over those logs, just for fun.
Just for the adventure of it all.