Wisconsin N.W.T.F.Educator of the Year

Gwen Wohlgefahrt named Wisconsin N.W.T.F. Educator of the Year

Gwen is a fifth grade teacher who teaches in our public school system here in Racine. She teaches at a school in the inner city of Racine called Jefferson Lighthouse. The school is set up as offering classes for the gifted and talented.

The city of Racine has a population of about 82,000 people, and is located on the shore of Lake Michigan, twenty-five miles south of Milwaukee and sixty miles north of Chicago. Several smaller communities also surround Racine. We are the fourth largest school district in Wisconsin and the second poorest.

There are four fifth Grade classes consisting of about 110 students. Most of the staff except my wife, and maybe one other, are non-hunters as well as 95 percent of the fifth grade students.

Every year she gains permission from the principal to allow me to bring in an education box to the entire fifth grade and hold a turkey conservation talk. Habitat Hank is played on T.V. I have an overhead presentation that she sets up for me on the anatomy of the wild turkey. A full mount of a strutting Gobbler is used for display that spends most of the year in her classroom, along with most of the posters from the education box that are hung around the room through out the year. Various turkey feathers are passed around along with the parts from the turkey anatomy kit, and we have a great time talking about habitat, conservation, and taking care of the wildlife around us. At the end of the lesson, the kids are each given a NWTF Jakes ruler and pencil.

This is our fifth year doing this presentation and we are already welcomed back for next year. The students express great interest in attending future Jakes Days and have received hundreds of hand written thank- yous from the students telling how much they enjoyed the class.

My wife has also been on the forefront of scheduling field trips to natural areas around our part of the state; this is a challenging task, as many obstacles have to be met before the field trip even begins busing, permission from parents, volunteers, and getting the funds to do the trip.

On one such field trip the students were bused a hour away to the Scuppernong Wildlife area by southern kettle Moraine, One of the things that stuck in my mind as well as my wife’s happened after we spent the first part of the morning traipsing thru the fields and woods looking for items on a checklist that you  should find in this area, lunch was to be cooked at my wife’s parents house, they border the kettle moraine area and farm country, they live in a 1840’s restored house,. When the students arrived for lunch, they went absolutely nuts over the dairy cows in the field next to her parents, after a show of hands 95 percent of the students have never been that close to a live cow.

It was a awakening for myself and my wife, we thought if the majority of these students had never seen a cow and not understood where Milk came from how could they actually care or become stewards of the land if they do not understand the importance of the natural world around them, and with that being said how could they ever form a positive opinion of hunters and the conservation management of harvesting wild game.

My wife and I are fortunate enough to have been raised in the outdoors, and both of us have been raised in a rural environment. Out of one hundred and ten children, only one child in class had ever been on a hunting trip for a wild turkey.

My wife has been deeply involved  thru out the school year with teaching these children about being good conservationist and protecting all the wildlife around them, Some of the examples she has taught include picking up litter around the city and on the beach and that, all of the kids can play an important role in helping our wildlife. When asked by her students what picking up litter will do she responds by telling them of just a few hazards wildlife could encounter if they come in contact with discarded fishing line and litter and by disposing of it properly, they have now helped the ducks, geese, and birds that live on or near the beach and the peregrine falcon, which has made a nest on our 9-story public courthouse building. Or the Snowy owl that visits our North beach every winter. These kids were taught that wildlife exists all around them.

As our hunting numbers are on a steady decline in the state of Wisconsin, I believe by her teachings to the inner city kids they will have a vested interest in the wildlife around them, maybe we will gain a few hunters in the future, and if not, at least they will have a understanding of hunting as an important role in wildlife management and not be so quick to jump on the theory that hunting is bad.

I am proud of her dedication to being a teacher and instilling strong conservation ethics in her classroom and again proud of her reconigition from the Wisconsin State Chapter.

Thank you

Howard Wohlgefahrt