It all began back in 1998, inspired by a child's homework assignment, and has become one of America's most effective K-12 conservation education programs.
Launched in 1999 Wildlife Forever's State-Fish Art Program continues to teach and inspire thousands of kids across America with the free school curriculum Fish On! Using art as a tool to teach youth about fish and aquatic conservation, students learn about then create an original illustration of an official state-fish. They also compose in their own words an essay, story, or poem related to their chosen fish, its behavior, habitat, and conservation needs.
The program culminates in the nationwide State-Fish Art Contest with an annual entry deadline of March 31st. On Earth Day a diverse panel of judges selects winners for each of the four grade categories from each state and international entries. A second panel of judges determines the winning essays. The creativity and hard work of the young first place winners is recognized at the State-Fish Art EXPO each summer.
The ultimate purpose of the program is to create future stewards of our aquatic resources by connecting kids to nature—and getting them outdoors fishing. Prior to 2012 only the artwork was judged and awarded. We decided it was time to honor the science side of our contest and look for that special "spark of conservation awareness" that can be found in the written word.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Division of Fish and Aquatic Conservation partners with this award, judging the essays in the upper Grades 10-12 Category. They also present the Fish Make You Smarter Awards at the annual EXPO. The 2012 winning essays in the Grades 10-12 Category are highlighted in this article. We had a tie with two very different styles, of both writing and painting, rising to the top.
Macey Hoggard, a 10th grader from El Dorado, Arkansas, went underwater and sent out a delightful Note from a Longear Sunfish written from the fish's point of view. From Suwanee, Georgia, Arsalan Sufi's thought-provoking poem, Contradiction, was written on the fly. "While I spent almost ten hours on my artwork, I wrote my poem Contradiction in my friend's car on the way to school in less than ten minutes. My conclusion? Sometimes, we produce our greatest works on a whim. I'm not really sure why this is; it's almost . . . contradictory," she reflected in her acceptance speech.
Douglas Grann, President & CEO of Wildlife Forever is excited about the new award. "The essays are just as amazing as the art designs. In only one page I can find their personal connection to the watery world they just studied. I can 'hear' a conservation voice emerging."
To learn more about the State-Fish Art Contest please visit www.statefishart.org.
Karen R. Hollingsworth manages Wildlife Forever's State-Fish Art Program. She's an award-winning wildlife photographer and is featured in numerous publications including the Smithsonian Book of