Nelson Institute student, affiliate help launch fishing club for Latino youth

August 29, 2011

When the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Angler Education Program needed assistance in launching a fishing club for Latino youth in the Madison area, Andrea-Teresa "Tess" Arenas, a Nelson Institute honorary fellow, was eager to take the bait.

Tess Arenas
Jannet Arenas, Tess Arenas (no relation)
and Tess's daughter Victoria, pictured from
left to right, helped to lead the fishing club.

The DNR approached her in May for help in getting the fishing club off the ground. As director of the College of Letters and Science Office of Service Learning and Community Based Research, Arenas helps bring service-learning and community-based research opportunities to the university, in turn helping communities address their needs through the work of UW-Madison students.

Arenas's on- and off-campus partnerships helped her quickly identify a student to help lead the program. Jannet Arenas (no relation), a member of Tess's Environmental Studies 699 summer directed study course, was happy to join the effort. So was Madison-based Centro Hispano of Dane County, a nonprofit organization that serves the Latino community.

Within two weeks, Jannet, Tess and Centro Hispano had the program underway, working to introduce local Latino youth to the joys of fishing and to instill stewardship for the environment among club members. Midway through, the program became a family affair when Tess's daughter, Victoria, joined on as an assistant.

Culturally specific curriculum

Jannet, a UW-Madison senior majoring in social work with an environmental studies certificate and a member of the Nelson Institute Community Environmental Scholars Program, worked closely with Tess to design a culturally specific curriculum for club members that involved hands-on activities ranging from arts and games to fishing trips. Elements of a precollege program, including university guest lecturers and field trips, were also included to help instill the goal of postsecondary education.

Member of fishing club
The club introduced Latino youth
to environmental stewardship
and the joys of fishing.
"I met weekly with Jannet as we reflected on the teaching experiences in relation to the course texts," Tess says. Her course content spanned environmental justice and principles of the movement, along with lessons in how to teach and work with marginalized youth. As emeriti associate vice president of UW System and author of UW System's Plan 2008: Educational Excellence Through Racial and Ethnic Diversity, Tess has significant experience designing multicultural curriculum and other diversity policies and practices.

"Jannet's reflection journals demonstrated she was able to connect theory to practice," Tess continues. "The two sets of goals came together beautifully."

Jannet attributes the fishing club's popularity to the culturally specific curriculum and the bilingual staff and materials she and Tess developed, including the translation of DNR instructional materials.

"All partners in this effort deemed the fishing club a success, especially for its first year," Jannet says. Plans are underway for next year to expand the program to additional locations and to involve Hmong, Native American and African American youth.

Memories of a lifetime

Jannet Arenas with fishing club members
Jannet, at right, with a fishing
club participant.
For Jannet, having the opportunity to work collaboratively on the program with multiple partners and with club members has been one of her most rewarding endeavors as a student. "I was able to use both my social work and environmental studies education to create a culturally competent program that allowed Latino youth to explore their environment," she says. "Learning to fish is a memorable experience, and for many it was an experience that they would not have been exposed to otherwise." "The fishing club not only provided the opportunity for the youth to spend their summer enjoying the outdoors, but for me to spend my summer with them," she continues.

Tess recently accompanied Jannet on a club outing, joining the group and DNR officials on a fish hatchery tour and fishing expedition. Below is a report Tess sent back about the experience.

The youth poured out of the 15-passenger van with excitement. In a combination of English, Spanish and Spanglish, the excitement was off the charts! The group was predominately male but there were at least five females. Jannet kept the youth, ages 5 to 15, in control while letting them have the time of their lives.

There were so many impressive moments during the three hours of angling which demonstrated the effectiveness of Jannet's educational program.

Early on, after a fish was caught, a 5-year-old boy yelled "Hey, you have to put him back in the water 'cause he is too small to eat!" The DNR official's eyes popped because the boy knew and observed the fishing rules. When a 9-year-old boy caught a fish he yelled for "the measuring crew," who quickly ran over with tape measures to ensure the fish was a keeper. I was so nervous the kids would have to return the fish and was relieved when it measured nine inches. Being oldest doesn't mean I am always correct... an 8-year-old boy corrected me when I misidentified a beautiful fish. "No senora," he said, "this is a brook trout, not a rainbow trout, because it doesn't have the pink stripe on its belly." A total of five "keepers" were in the Styrofoam cooler by the end of the day. Jannet pulled the group together to determine who would take a fish home to cook. The kids negotiated the serious task of dividing the fish. It was determined by the kids that the fish should go to those who had not taken a fish home in the past or who were sure they would really clean, cut and cook the fish. Very sensitive negotiations took place " I was stunned. All of the youth were sad and upset when a fish was injured from a hook. The kids were negotiating who should take this fish home " they didn't feel good about eating this one. "It suffered enough all ready, I can't eat it," said Javier, age eight, with the saddest tone I have ever heard. "But we can't waste this fish either, that is bad too," another boy said. Great analysis. After all these discussions about sharing the bounty, the kids moved from diplomats to being kids again; they were tired, hungry, thirsty and ready for the ride home.