Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Wonder How Much 2,500 People Weigh?

Rob Causton looks like a gym teacher.

I mean, he's got it all down. The shorts. The whistle. The commanding presence.

He looks strong.

Archers at Oxford Central School.
At least that was my initial impression when I met him last month while covering a story for Classroom Close-up, NJ. The story (airing next season) is about the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) which helps bring the sport of target archery to millions of students in schools across the United States by providing a detailed curriculum, training to teachers, and affordable access to equipment.

More specifically, the story is about the archery program at Oxford Central School where Rob teaches. Oxford was able to start its archery program with grant assistance from the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife that helped to purchase the equipment. Now, in addition to giving every student in grades 4 through 8 a chance to learn the sport, Oxford boasts an archery team that recently won its fifth consecutive state title.

But before I go any further, let me tell you a bit about Oxford. It's a pretty small town. According to the 2010 census, the population is about 2,500 people. Oxford Central is the only elementary school in the district teaching about 300 students in grades K thru 8. Correction, it's the only school in the district period. Oxford doesn't have its own high school so students from Oxford go on to attend a regional high school or a private school.

The "Drive for Five"
Now, I'm not here to knock sending/receiving relationships, it's what small towns all over NJ do to make their school budgets work. However, I do think every town likes to have something to call its own. To "put-it-on-the-map" so to speak. In many places, that ends up being the local high school sports teams. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the Blue Streaks have a ton of fans in Oxford, but there's something different about having your town's name on the uniform.

So it was really wasn't that surprising to learn how much the people of Oxford love their five-time champion middle school archery team. It's the only game in town. One of the great stories I heard was about the return from their first trip to nationals, when their late night bus pulled into Oxford. Not only were they met by parents and families, they were met with a police and fire department escort.

What else did I witness in Oxford?

I saw middle schoolers shooting bows and arrows with amazing accuracy. An archery scrimmage with a visiting school. A shoot-off to decide both the individual male and female state champions... with all five participants from Oxford. Lot's of awesome "thrill of victory" stuff.

Shoot-off in Oxford.
I also learned how Rob was able to bring a sport to his school that everyone gets to be a part of regardless of physical ability. I watched Rob working with a visually impaired student so that she could target shoot right alongside her classmates (and in case anyone is wondering, the student can hit a bullseye). I heard about higher student test scores related to the concentration skills students develop through archery. I talked with another student whose best memory wasn't her team's state titles, trips to nationals, or her own individual success, it was seeing her dad (also a team coach) on the sidelines watching her compete. I saw alumni, now in high school, returning to cheer for their team along with parents and teachers in the stands.

So I think my initial impression was pretty accurate. Rob Causton is strong.

He's a strong teacher who's mastered the art of teaching to the point that he can use it to lift up a student, a class, and an entire school. With the help of his students and colleagues, he's even able to lift up an entire town.

If you're interested in New Jersey's public schools, visit the Classroom Close-up, NJ Facebook page and click the 'Like' button! To find out where I'm headed next, feel free to subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter.