La Plata High wins en­vi­rothon com­pe­ti­tion

Stu­dents bat­tle heavy rains for En­vi­rothon ti­tle

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @JamieACIndyNews

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.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

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.

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