By Todd Martin

Special to the Daily Herald

BELTON - Squinting into the lake's reflection Friday, fourth-graders from Sugar Loaf Elementary School in Killeen forgot about class work and learned the natural way.

As long as anyone can remember, fourth-grade teacher Teresa Washko has taken her grade level to the lakeshore on a spring day to soak up some fun and catch some fish.

She's always insisted on a little learning, too.

Each time a student caught a fish at the floating dock at the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area, they took their catch to a table and weighed, measured and recorded their fish.

They also used a poster to identify their fish before releasing it back to the water.

Mostly, though, students laughed and grew wide-eyed as they hauled in sunfish and bluegill on a warm spring day less than a month from the end of the school year.

"The reason it's fun is you can catch some really good fish," said fourth-grader Crystal Kinsinger, who hauled in a couple before stopping for lunch.

Each of the five fourth-grade classes wore specific shirts, and teachers kept track of the class catching the most.

Students received trophies for catching the biggest, the most and the first catch of the day.

When Kinsinger caught her first fish, she said it was scary. "It was scary because the fish was fighting me," she said.

Washko said she never tires of taking the students to Belton Lake and that it's a welcomed respite after months of class work and a week of state-mandated tests.

"I keep doing it because the kids love it," she said. "A lot of them have never been fishing."

While some students used their own rods or poles, the school's supply of 30 fishing poles were all in use on Friday.

The measuring and weighing serve as real-world applications to math lessons and are more real on the rocky shores than in a lab where students might be given an item to measure, teachers said.

There's something more important to Washko, though, than the math lessons.

"I love not talking about school," the longtime teacher said. "I love talking to parents and grandparents who come out with us. We never get to do that unless it's an official setting.

"Look around," Washko said. "There are no discipline problems out here because we have their attention. They are focused."

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