By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald
BELTON - Taking their learning to the lake Friday, Sugar Loaf Elementary School fourth-graders enjoyed a day of fishing.
Darius Hall was thrilled as he carefully held his fishing line in one hand and the small bluegill in his other hand.
He raced from the lakeshore to the table where teacher Teresa Washko and some volunteer parents assisted students as they weighed, measured and identified their fish.
For Hall, the catch was his first ever during his first fishing trip.
"I was excited," said Hall after releasing the 5-inch-long fish at the floating dock at the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area.
"I think it's fun, but you have to have patience," the new fisherman declared, explaining that he could see fish swimming about his wormed hook long before he hauled in his first catch.
"It's not easy, but it pays off," he said.
Applying measuring and weighing skills satisfy the learning element of the annual fishing derby, but Washko said the event is about more than academics - much more.
She has spearheaded the derby since 1989. Only once, the fishing trip was postponed, but none of her classes have ever missed the chance to go fishing.
This year about 70 students from Sugar Loaf's four fourth-grade classes made the trip from Killeen to the Belton Lake dock, along with a large group of parents.
Washko looked wistfully up and down the rock-strewn shoreline as students struggled to bait hooks and cast line. She is retiring from teaching this year, ending a career stretching 28 years.
"It's one of my favorite parts of the year," she said. "We've been lucky that we've never missed a year. The best part is interacting with kids and parents. It's nice to have an informal setting where they can all be themselves."
Fourth-grader Jacob Snyder smiled broadly as he placed his bluegill catch on the little scale. It weighed 4 ounces. He registered the catch and released the fish back to the water.
"It was scaly and spiky," he said of his first catch of the day and his second one ever.
"I was excited and happy," he said of the experience.
Fourth-grade teacher Mona Davies, a veteran of many of Washko's trips over the years, said she would make sure the tradition continues into the future.
"It's been going on so long; it's a Sugar Loaf tradition," Davies said. "The combination of learning and the socialization is great. We come out and celebrate another year at Sugar Loaf. We work hard and we like to play hard."
"We've been doing measurement and conversion in class and this is a hands-on application to real life," said teacher Coretta Perkins, a first-timer on the school fishing trip. She admitted she has rarely ever fished.
"They get to interact with their peers and the parents come out," she said. "It's a learning experience in a different environment."