Statesboro High School students formed the first Georgia Ducks Unlimited high school committee and hosted their inaugural event on April 24, 2012. The event raised more than $15,000. Lee Bratton, Statesboro High School teacher and committee chairman, plans to take the 49-student DU chapter one step further and transition the club into an actual class, teaching conservation ethics based on DU's mission.
"When we started, not all the kids knew what Ducks Unlimited did for wildlife conservation," Bratton said. "I think there were several boys who knew about Ducks Unlimited from hunting, but not as much about the conservation work. After having several speakers, including DU Regional Director Stephen Walker and folks from the DNR, the kids really got on board with idea. "
Statesboro High School is a STEM school, focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Bratton explained that many of the students had backgrounds in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H, and were looking for an alternative that would allow them to work with wildlife and conservation. It was apparent to Bratton from the first day that her DU committee members were motivated by conservation and she expanded the chapter's involvement to a more hands-on approach.
"With Fort Stewart being nearby, we were able to partner with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps to get a tract of land to manage for conservation. The students were able to put up wood duck boxes and monitor these boxes for nests and hatchlings," she said. "Working with the Georgia DNR, this was an excellent way to explain wildlife conservation and DU's work rather than just fundraising. We are actually doing research to help Georgia DNR and the kids enjoyed it."
The Statesboro High School DU Chapter also competes as a team in the Youth Hunter Education Challenge, which tests young hunters' skills with a rifle, shotgun, bow, wildlife identification, and map-and-compass orienteering.
"I am really proud of the way the Statesboro High School Chapter has grown into a conservation-oriented educational tool for the kids, and with their hands-on involvement, it allows them to tell others about DU's work," Walker said. "They hosted a successful event, involving the school and the community. Their enthusiasm for DU's mission is contagious and it is great to see youth so involved."
Currently on the recruitment trail, Statesboro High School DU committee is actively engaging incoming freshmen to join their ranks. Planning for next year's event, Bratton explains that having the students understand the importance of hands-on conservation provides them a bigger picture of how their fundraising dollars impact waterfowl continentally.
"We are hoping that next fall we have the regular Ducks Unlimited class," Bratton said. "This is more than a fundraising committee - we had probably 15-20 kids who waterfowl hunted for the first time this year because of their involvement. The chapter is teaching these kids about conservation and preservation. Now some of them are showing an interest in careers relating to the work they are doing in biology, forestry, and conservation."