So when Sari Zukerman, a member of the Guttenberg Board of Education, learned about a local fishing club that takes kids out on fishing trips at no cost, she immediately thought about the Anna L. Klein School.
"I learned from a friend of mine [Leonard Litof] that his group [the Hudson River Fisherman's Association] had a program that took school kids out fishing," Zukerman said. "When I heard about this, I said that I wanted to learn more."
So Zukerman went on a chartered fishing boat off Staten Island and collected all the information necessary for a possible excursion for the kids of Klein.
"I brought all the information back to the Superintendent [Dr. Robert Penna] and the school principal [Robert Tholen] and brought the idea to the school board," said Zukerman, a retired college professor who has been a resident of Guttenberg for 25 years and a member of the Board of Education for the last 18 months. "They all loved the idea."
"When I heard about it, I said, 'Let's go for it,'" Penna said. "I immediately said we should move forward on it. Many of the children would never get a chance to go fishing. That's what field trips are all about, to broaden the children's education. They could find out about the fish in the classroom and then learn about it in the real world. I jumped at the opportunity. It was a wonderful idea."
The Hudson River Fisherman's Association, of which Guttenberg resident Litof has been a member for many years, has sponsored a Youth Explorer Young Angler program since 1999, where they bring school-age children on fishing charters and give them the proper instructions on how to fish. Since the program's inception six years ago, more than 2,000 grade school students in the New York metropolitan area have been treated to a day on the high seas free of charge.
The trips begin in Great Kills Harbor in Staten Island and go out on a 110-foot fishing vessel, with members of the Hudson River Fisherman's Association donating their time to help teach the children the proper ways of catching fish.
"They're taught about the equipment, the baiting of the hooks, how to use the equipment," Penna said. "It's a terrific idea."
However, only 40 students could be able to participate in the program. Unfortunately, the entire school was not able to go. So a select group of seventh and eighth graders were chosen after they wrote an essay why they wanted to go fishing.
Wrote an essay Seventh grader Eileen Joseph had never been fishing before, but she was honest with the motivation in writing her essay.
"I wanted to get out of school for the day, but if I wrote that, I knew that I wouldn't get picked," Joseph said. "I wrote that I thought it would be fun and that it would be scientific. I do like science a lot and I thought it would be cool to be a part of it."
"When I heard about it, I was like, 'OK, it's a little weird, but I'll try it,'" said eighth grader Megan Jeffery. "I was intrigued. I really wanted to go. I wanted to learn more about it."
Even the teachers were a little skeptical about the idea.
"When I first heard about it, I said, 'I'll believe it when I see it,'" said seventh grade science and social studies teacher Frank Romano. "That was my knee-jerk reaction. I was hoping it would happen, but let's see it happen."
Well, lo and behold, the day arrived last Monday. The essay winners boarded the Atlantis Princess off the coast of Staten Island for their first foray into fishing, accompanied by some teachers and other chaperones. Mayor David Delle Donna and the Town Council provided the transportation for the kids to go on the excursion.
"I think it's funny how the day progressed," said eighth grade teacher Donna Gryzbowski. "At first, the kids were complaining about the life jackets and the smell. They really didn't realize what they were going to do once they got on the boat. I don't think any of them were really sure. I think their outlook changed as the day went on."
Glen Blank and John Pontacorvo are the two members of the Hudson River Fisherman's Association that coordinate the Young Anglers' Explorer program. They were happy to teach the children the proper techniques of fishing, including the gruesome baiting process.
"It was gross," said Jeffery. "I did not like it."
The budding fishermen and fisherwomen had to take worms and squid and place them on the hook.
"I didn't like that part of it," Joseph said. "It was awful."
'It was a wonderful thing to watch' But after a while, the kids got the - pardon the pun - hook of it and started to reel in fish of all varieties, like porgies, weak fish, blue sea robins and bluefish.
"I caught three fish," Megan Jeffery said with pride.
"I got three," Eileen Joseph said. "They were weak fish, so I had to throw them back."
Each child had his/her own fishing pole and after given instructions how to properly use the pole, they were pretty much left on their own, until a fish was hooked. Then, with the assistance of the volunteers, they were able to bring their catches aboard.
However, in order to keep the fish, they had to be longer than 16 inches. If they weren't that long, then Littoral Society rules state that they must go back into the Atlantic Ocean.
"However, each fish that was caught was tagged with a Young Angler tag that identified the school," Zukerman said. "It was a wonderful thing to watch. It was so fabulous. I felt like I was a kid all over again. It took 20 years off my life. I came back with such a high after that day, seeing the kids. It was a refreshing experience."
By the end of the day, the kids from Klein were accomplished fishermen and fisherwomen.
"I was like a veteran," Jeffery said. "It was great. I felt so excited when I caught a fish. Sure, they were small, but it wasn't bad for a first-timer. I really liked it."
"I thought it was a good experience all the way around," Gryzbowski said. "By the end of the day, they didn't want to leave. They didn't care about the smell. There was no 'ooh' and 'ick' when baiting. They all adjusted to it and had a great time. It was a great idea."
Changed his tune The skeptical Romano changed his tune by the end of the excursion.
"I've been teaching for 14 years and I've been on a bunch of field trips, but this, bar none, was the best," Romano said. "The biggest pleasure I got was seeing the kids catch fish. Even the most timid and shy kids were exuberant by the end of the day. It was marvelous."
Zukerman was also able to get an anonymous friend to donate money to buy the kids' lunch, so the entire day was free of cost to the students.
"The people who ran the trip commended our kids for their behavior, saying that they were the best group they'd ever taken out," said Chris Ricciardi, the superintendent's administrative assistant who attended the trip as a chaperone. "They were all so wonderfully well behaved."
"The whole thing was terrific," Penna said. "I hope there are more."
Zukerman said that there are others planned for May and June, so the students will get their essays ready in the coming months. Soon, there could be a whole host of budding anglers in Guttenberg. You never know.