The great outdoors is for everyone: Perham High School special education hosts outdoor activities

Students enrolled in Perham High School special education went to Lake Buchanan to go ice fishing. The outdoor activity is one of many students get to participate in during the school year.

Students and staff stand together during an ice fishing trip on the lake, smiling and bundled up in the cold.
Contributed / Robbie Cox
A student who went ice fishing on the Perham High School trip shows off a catch to the camera.
Contributed / Tom Stolee

PERHAM — Just because it's cold and snowy doesn't mean students need to have their learning limited to the indoors. Special education teachers at Perham High School ensure their students have a variety of hands-on learning opportunities throughout the community, including a recent ice fishing trip at Lake Buchanan on March 3.

Several teachers and adults went out on the lake early, where they plowed and drilled holes in the ice for students. Once the kids showed up, they either walked out to their spots or got rides from attending adults. From there, the day of fun and excitement began.

"Right when students got out (on the lake), they grab their bucket. They grab their rods. They had their scoop to clean their holes out, and we just started fishing," said Perham High School special education teacher Robbie Cox. "Attention spans — some are longer than others. So we had a handful of kids that fished the entire day, and we had kids that wanted to sit by the bonfire. We had some pretty epic snowball fights."

Another special education teacher, Tom Stolee, said, "Going for snowmobile rides. I have a student that technically, you can say, is nonverbal. He went ice fishing, and I did not think he would last. And he sat on that bucket, and he fished and had a blast the whole day. When he got back, he fell asleep in the hammock. It just opens up a lot for him."

A student sits on a bucket and fishes, waiting for a fish to take the bait.
Contributed / Tom Stolee

Some of the kids had never fished before, and one was even a little scared when they caught one. They were shaking, seeing a fish up so close for the first time. Offering these types of activities for students with disabilities allows them to learn and try new things in a safe and stable environment, as the adults present have a positive and patient demeanor, Stolee said.


Though ice fishing is neat, it's not the only type of event the school district has put together for students enrolled in special education. This is the second time they've been able to go on a fishing trip. Last year, they went shed hunting — gathering shed antlers found outdoors — and Cox said they plan to do so again once the weather warms up.

In April, the Spring Fling dance, a prom-like activity, will be available for adults and students alike who may be hesitant to attend prom at school. While prom is great for many students, the Spring Fling dance — held at the New York Mills City Hall — has an environment specifically catered to students with specific needs, like those enrolled in special education.

Adults help young students learn the ropes of ice fishing.
Contributed / Tom Stolee

About a month ago, students in special education were even able to go mountain tubing. Cox approached the high school principal, Ehren Zimmerman, and asked about it. They received support from him and applied for a grant through the 549 Family Foundation. With support from administration and help from the grant, they were able to go tubing, eat Pizza Ranch afterward and have an overall fun day.

"When we go to admin for this, like Ehren Zimmerman, we're like, 'We have ideas,' and he's like, 'Well, what else can we do? Let's make it happen,'" Cox shared. "It's easy to organize and do these things because we've got the support from admin and our bosses … The kids are lucky to have all of this. I think (the district) realizes that stuff like out-of-the-classroom field trips (are important) for a lot of these kids who don't ever have the opportunity to do this stuff. It's way more impactful than a day in the classroom."

Stolee continued, "I never felt pushed back (by admin). Shed hunting — you're taking students to walk through the woods for deer antlers. There's no pushback on that, and it's fun. It's a learning experience when the kids are out there, and it's good education."

Special education teachers at Perham High School like Cox and Stolee are always looking for more opportunities to help get the kids out into the community and experience something new. If anyone has an event they'd like to help host for kids enrolled in special education, call the school at 218-346-6500.

Elizabeth (she/her), 24, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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