I arrived at Dodge City High School and headed straight for the lake. That would be Demon Lake, the acre-size pond at the side of the school grounds, where students practice their catch-and-release of bluegill, catfish, and bass.
Fishing in landlocked Dodge City, Kansas, you ask? No problem. They made a lake with reclaimed wastewater and stocked it. Dave Foster, the physical-education teacher and head football coach, was the visionary behind the pond project, and he will even teach lessons on how to fish. I had never heard of high-school fishing before—not even at my hometown high school in a fishing town on the south shore of Lake Erie. You can see a Facebook video of fish going into the lake in a video called “Channel Catfish Stocking at Demon Lake.”
Jacque Feist, the DCHS principal, and Mike Martinez, the associate principal, met me on a hot late-June morning, just after the Dodge City Fire Department had left the grounds. A false alarm, of course, but it was enough to empty the building for a while. Summer school was already in full swing, and the clusters of kids in various summer programs as well as a large number of students from a special-needs program spilled outside.
Feist and Martinez described the operating principle of their school: first kids, then teachers, then administration. They listen and build the culture in that order: start with the kids, not the other way around. Martinez said he wants this to be a place “where the kids can be themselves,” adding: “If five or six kids are interested in snakes, we’ll start a herpetology club, and they’ll be crawling in caves.” The school website lists more than 30 activity groups, from animation to a student-run business to the Outdoor Club, which includes not only fishing but clay-target shooting and archery. Beyond those activities, the school curriculum, with 16 career clusters, whets kids’ appetites in everything from welding to foreign service to communications.