La Plata High wins envirothon competition
Students battle heavy rains for Envirothon title
La Plata High School took first place in the 23rd Annual Charles County Envirothon, competing against six other schools, as well as wind and heavy rain Thursday morning.
Envirothon is “an outdoor natural resources competition that challenges students to identify and categorize living resources, perform soil surveys and solve other complex natural resource issues”, according to the Maryland Envirothon website.
The event, hosted by the Charles County Soil Conservation District, featured five stations where students had 35 minutes to answer questions on wildlife, aquatic life, soil, forestry and a fifth topic, which this year was on invasive species.
“Today, they’re rotating through all the five stations, and doing tests at each of them, based on our trainings, as well as any trainings and field trips they’ve done through their schools’ environmental clubs,” said Dee Dee Saunders, administrative specialist for the Soil Conservation District and judge of the county Envirothon for nine years. “All of the stations involve hands-on materials.”
Two teams of five students each from all seven of the county’s public high schools have spent the year studying Southern Maryland’s natural resources in preparation for the event, Saunders said.
“We have had wonderful support and participation from all of the schools,” Saunders said. “The coaches are all long-term, committed teachers.”
The Soil Conservation District held three trainings on the various topics to help students prepare for the competition, Saunders said.
The La Plata High School team placed first, with a combined score of 423.5. Henry E. Lackey came in second and Maurice McDonough High School came in third; both had scores of 384, and so Lackey’s higher score from the soil station was used as the tie-breaker, Saunders said, in keeping with the state competition’s rules.
La Plata placed first in aquatics and soil, Thomas Stone High School placed first in forestry, Lackey and McDonough tied in wildlife, and North Point High School finished first in the fifth topic.
The top two teams get a framed picture as a trophy, as well as Target gift cards for each student. The first place team also gets soil district hats, Saunders said.
The La Plata High School team will represent Charles County in the state Envirothon, which will be held June 22-23 at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg.
The Maryland winner will go on to compete against schools from across the United States and Canada in the 2016 North American Envirothon, being held at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada from July 24-29.
Saunders said she hopes the experience will help generate an interest in environmental sciences.
“One thing that we are really hoping for is that it develops an interest in the field. It’s an outreach not just to teach them about the environment, but also to get them interested in it,” Saunders said. “We have had several students come back to us and tell us how important the program was to them.”
Stephen Lehrter, a soil conservation planner with the Charles County Soil Conservation District, was one of the “trainers” in charge of the invasive species station, but he had previously taken part in Envirothon, from 1999 to 2003. Lehrter said Envirothon was one of the things that led him to his current career.
“I really enjoyed my time in the competition,” Lehrter said.
Janis Milman, AP environmental sciences instructor, is sponsor of the Thomas Stone High School team. She said she has been bringing teams to Envirothon since its second year.
“I want them to get a better sense of the environment. I think Envirothon gives them hands-on experience with a lot of the things they’re learning about in the classroom,” Milman said.
Ingrid Brown, 18, a senior at McDonough High School, took part in Envirothon for her fourth and final year Thursday. Brown said she plans to attend Frostburg State University and major in wildlife and fisheries.
“I think this program really helped me figure out that this is what I want to do,” Brown said. “Every time we come, I get so excited and I think, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”
Doang Nguyen, 19, a senior at Westlake High School, also took part in Envirothon for four years in a row. Nguyen said the competition helps build teamwork skills.
“You have to break the test up, decide who works on which part, in order to finish it on time,” Nguyen said.
Saunders said Envirothon sees a lot of students who take part again and again.
“One way you can tell that the students are really enjoying it, is because a lot of them return,” Saunders said.
Thomas Stone High School juniors Callena Cauley and Parker Sabin attempt to identify an invasive species of plant held by Envirothon trainer Stephen Lehrter during Thursday’s competition, which took place at Gilbert Run Park.
Maurice McDonough High School freshman Lauren Haley takes measurements of a tree at the forestry station in the Charles County Envirothon, which took place Thursday at Gilbert Run Park.