Student archers at JackRabbit Archery in Easton aim for the target. But a one-hour archery lesson will also get you a history of the ancient practice of shooting an arrow from a bow and a little closer to mindfulness.
JackRabbit Archery founder Stephanie Niles takes advantage of the antique stone walls, tall hemlock trees, and the babbling Ballwall Brook that surrounds her property. She uses the pastoral scenery to inspire students to imagine how archery’s long history of hunting and combat has evolved into a modern day recreational and competitive sport.
“Archery was a necessity for those who lived off the land right where we walk today, including the Golden Hill Paugussett tribe and and Pequot people years ago,” said Niles. “Archery also slows us down a bit. It is a great way to connect with yourself, as you need to be really in tune with your body to hit that target.”
A certified level II instructor and coach with USA Archery, the National Governing Body for the Olympic sport of archery, Niles offers individualized archery instruction to students of all ages and skill levels at her Silver Hill Road range. Registration is open for classes at the range starting in October for a variety of age groups. She also has the equipment to be mobile, including a portable backdrop, targets, and of course, bows and arrows.
Niles formed JackRabbit Archery in July 2021 while she was homeschooling her three children and was part of a homeschooling co-op in Bethel. She suggested to a group of children that archery might be a sport to take up. The response was overwhelming.
She created a curriculum and began teaching a class that summer in a parking lot-turned archery range she designed herself. Needed equipment came from the homeschooling co-op.
“The response was overwhelming among the community of about 35 families who were homeschooling and teaching each others’ kids,” said Niles.
Then Covid shut down her lessons. She pivoted to teaching archery from her backyard range in Easton with student archers wearing masks and social distancing.
“People love coming to my range because it’s friendly and scenic, and while I do offer my Wi-Fi password, people seem to enjoy unplugging and connecting with nature as they watch the archers,” said Niles. “My classes are low-pressure and fun. My goal is to meet people where they are with archery skills and help them improve.”
Penny Valvo, mother of twins Madison and Isabella Valvo, said Niles’s archery program gave her daughters the opportunity to be active during the pandemic when in-person contact was extremely limited.
Madison and Isabella fell in love with archery after their first lesson with Niles and practice in an archery range they set up in their backyard with Niles’s safety guidelines and instruction.
“She’ll always run through the basics,” said Madison of Niles. “She’s very interactive and will help you out. If we make little mistakes, she won’t be mean about it, she’ll just correct us, and it’s really helpful.”
The one-hour classes at the range are based on enrollment. There are teen classes, youth classes, adult classes, and a parent (or adult caregiver) with a child weekly class. Sessions run anywhere from four to 10 weeks. Shorter sessions are often extended due to popular requests. All equipment is provided. Niles’s daughter, Gwendolyn, is a level I USA Archery certified coach and assists Niles when she’s home from college.
Niles also offers private lessons, birthday parties, youth groups, scout trips, and other special events located at either her own backyard range or at a customer’s specified location. In addition, Niles certifies summer camp staff to teach level I archery for USA Archery.
As a parent of three who also works full-time as an art teacher and operations manager at a specialized private school, Niles aims to accommodate both the homeschooling community and those with more traditional schedules.
‘Closely Connected to Nature’
Before switching to being a full-time art teacher, Niles was the program director for Two Coyotes Wilderness School in Newtown for many years, in addition to teaching in the home school community.
“I’ve raised my children to be closely connected to nature as it can unite people,” said Niles. “Nature is a natural healer and teacher. As archery is inherently an outdoor activity, we are bringing people outside and off screens for at least the hour they are here.”
In between archery rounds, Niles often uses her naturalist skills to engage students in their surrounding environment.
Alycia Matchen, whose children have taken many classes at the range, remembers Niles stopping the firing on the range to wait for a bird to fly away to a safer area.
“There is alot of team spirit and a sense of accomplishment,” said Matchen. “The kids are often encouraging each other, and nearly every student I’ve seen has progressed in a very visible way through Stephanie’s classes.”
Nile prioritizes growth and individual improvement in her classes and does not implement a competitive teaching style. She provides a supportive, positive experience with safety and fun as the top priorities.
“We don’t treat it as a competition between archers,” said Niles. “Having fun comes above all and being present in the moment and in nature is key to our classes.”
To get in touch with Niles, customers can email her at email@example.com. Registration for fall classes is also available on the website by clicking here.