WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - If you've spotted students fishing in the ponds outside West Ashley High School, they aren't playing hooky.
They're getting physical education credits through a class called Outdoor Pursuits. The only one of its kind in the state, the class has been offered
at West Ashley for the past four years, with hands-on activities that teach all aspects of outdoor life in South Carolina.
Kids learn skills ranging from boating and backpacking to gun safety.
The instructor is the football coach Thomas Cousins.
Standing with his class at a gun range under the bleachers on the football field, you'll hear him tell a student, "Gun pointed in a safe direction, take safety off, safety glasses on, good!"
This isn't the first time these students have heard this drill.
Gun safety instruction begins in the classroom well before students head outside to get hands-on experience firing very realistic air soft guns.
"They know to follow the same firearm safety practices as they would if it was a real gun and they really do a nice job with it," Cousins said.
Cousins grew up in the outdoors, and designed this class to pass on what he learned.
"If I can teach the kids to handle firearms with the respect they are due and handle them accordingly I feel like we're doing a tremendous service for many generations," he said.
Outdoor Pursuits, Cousins said, is the most popular class in school, with a waiting list.
"My freshman year I tried but I couldn't get in," West Ashley senior Infiniti Harrison said. She said she tried another year, and finally made it her senior year.
Handling a gun isn't the only thing Harrison and the other students are learning. The students said one of their favorite parts of the class was tracking other students in the woods.
They've learned surviving outside means staying warm, so they've mastered how to build several types of fires.
"I thought you just threw sticks together to make a fire, I didn't know anything," senior Kevin Digiandomenico said.
"If I was stranded in the woods I would know how to make a fire, certain shelters," junior Dominique Novak said.
And the class has learned how to find food.
Archery brought them back to the range under the bleachers A sport made popular by the book and movie series "Hunger Games," the students have found it is not as easy as it looks.
Last year, students taking Outdoor Pursuits are credited with solving a problem the campus was having with Canada Geese. Goose waste was creating a slipping hazard on the football field, and a game was nearly canceled because of it, Cousins said.
The Outdoor Pursuits class tested several solutions and found coyote decoys would keep the geese away if the decoys were regularly moved to different locations on the field.
Cousins said while the students will earn their hunter and boater education certifications, he's hoping they'll also take with them a love of the outdoors and skills they can use the rest of their lives, not just for safety and survival, but also for fun.