The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission showed off its new toy for the Salem Elementary sixth grade class March 10, a jacked up four-wheel drive built to inspire kids to stay off drugs.
Wildlife officers Scott Watkins and Ryan Nast rode up in style driving a 2003 Chevrolet Silverado with a six inch super-lift kit, huge mud tires, lights, duel exhaust and Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs graphics to deliver a presentation to the children.
"The Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs program was started back in the late '90s and then introduced to different schools all throughout the state of Arkansas by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission," Nast said. "Recently, one of the lieutenants down in the southern part of the state came up with the great idea of getting a truck to get the kids interested," he said.
Nast and Watkins gave a presentation about the dangers of drugs to a packed audience of sixth graders in Mylett Trotter's classroom with ample interaction with the students. However, the classroom presentation was simply a prologue to the real show.
"As we saw here today, they had more questions about the truck than anything and it really opened up some eyes. The only thing the Game and Fish contributed was the truck. It was a truck that had over 100,000 miles on it and they were going to send it to the auction anyway. All the additions like the big tires, lights and graphics were all donated," Nast said.
Along with the truck, children witnessed the effects of smoking first hand with the help of a cigarette smoking skull. The skull used a hand pump to smoke a real cigarette that filled and evacuated a plastic sack representing lungs. The bag and paper lining quickly became discolored.
According to Nast, all the materials used in the presentation such as the smoking skull and the drug displays were all either donated or purchased by donations to the program.
"The basis behind all this, of course, is to keep kids off drugs. We try to get to them before they are really introduced to drugs or introduced in the wrong way," Nast said.
If a child has an encounter with drugs after being involved with the Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs program, Nast said he hopes they will be better equipped to handle the encounter in a positive way by being more educated on the negative effects and dangers of drugs.
"The idea behind fishing is to give kids an alternative. Not only don't do drugs, but, hey, why don't we go do this instead. The schools that are set up with the program get a big fish aquarium and there are certain lessons that can be taught that also go along with the state required curriculum. This allows the teacher to get away from the books and the every day stuff while not having to throw anything extra onto the kids. Usually two-three times a year they have a fishing derby and the game and fish will come stock a local pond. Kids can go down there and fish all day, win trophies, just a lot of good stuff," Nast said.
"In my district we have about one school per county, but we would like every school to be involved with the program. We target fourth through eighth graders but it can go all the way up to 12th graders. It isn't hard for the teachers to get involved. They just have to give us a call, fill out a little paper work and go to a one-day workshop and they are hooked up with the program," he said.
Nast also said that although schools are encouraged to join the program, any school can request a presentation. The drug program is not limited to schools. Any club or organization such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H Club or church groups can request the Arkansas Game and Fish to speak. "We want to get as many kids involved as we possibly can," Nast said.
For more information on the Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs program contact your local Arkansas Game and Fish office or call 800-482-8845.