LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) " Students at Paul Breaux Middle School will have even more options next year, with the creation of a kayaking club this fall.
The school's close proximity to the Vermilion River makes it a prime candidate for such a club.
But it's not just about location. Itinerant Assistant Principal Jason Leonard wants to give his students the opportunity to learn a new skill and maybe find a new passion like he did.
Leonard's love for kayaking started about two years ago when he took a trip with Pack and Paddle, also located very close to the middle school.
"That started my lovely addiction," the principal said. "... I'd never been on a kayak til two years ago."
He knows there are students at Paul Breaux who have never been in a kayak either or never on the Vermilion, a body of water they drive over daily.
"My goal is to hit those kids who have never had experience with this," Leonard said. "It's giving them something else to do other than what they're doing. ... It's another option, another interest."
Brian Ford, chief operating officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Acadiana, said exposing young people to something they otherwise wouldn't have the chance to learn can build self-confidence and help them to be better students.
"It can give them a bigger outlook on life," Ford said. "The more they travel, the more they see, so when they learn about something in school they can relate to it better."
He adds that water safety skills are important for all students, even if they don't end up with a passion for kayaking.
"(But) you never know what they'll take a liking to," Ford said.
As an avid paddler, Leonard said he also hopes the club breaks a long-held stigma that the Vermilion isn't clean. It has been approved for on-water activities like kayaking, and he wants to show this generation first-hand.
Leonard is working with Pack and Paddle and plans to bring students first to one of the business's free demo Saturdays once school starts. That's where they'll teach water safety and basic skills.
Then they'd head upstream and build on that, perhaps later incorporating Vermilionville. The club would incorporate other academic elements as well, like inviting a science teacher to instruct about wildlife and ecology of the river or a photographer to add an art aspect.
It will take money to get this club up and paddling. He created a Donors Choose page to raise funds for equipment. Find it at DonorsChoose.org as "Getting Kids on the Water."
He's looking for anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000. The money raised will buy a trailer, four tandem kayaks (holds eight kids total), paddles, paddle leashes, life jackets and a dry bag for each kayak.
Once established the club would do fundraisers as needed.
"I'm hoping four (kayaks) is not enough," Leonard said. "... I hope I have a waiting list. That's a good problem to have."
Leonard plans to get the word out to students after the first few weeks of the semester. It likely will be September or October before they get on the water, which won't be so hot, he said.
Parents are welcome to join the paddles as chaperones, he added.
Leonard also is itinerant assistant principal at Youngsville Middle School and would love to start a club there, too, should this one take off.
Information from: The Advertiser, http://www.theadvertiser.com