NEW JERSEY ENVIROTHON OPENS DOORS TO NATURAL RESOURCE
CONSERVATION FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
(NJ Department of Agriculture News Release)
By Lynne Richmond, Public Information Officer, New Jersey Department
A group of high school students had some firsts when they participated
in a statewide environmental competition at a Monmouth County scout
reservation - their first camping experience, first campfire and
first s'mores, that chocolaty-marshmallow-graham cracker treat kids
have been eating around campfires for decades.
But, for the team of students from High Tech High School in North
Bergen who placed first in the 2006 New Jersey Envirothon, held
in Manalapan on Saturday, May 13, winning was not one of those firsts.
High Tech High School was the returning champion from the 2005 Envirothon,
having gone on to the national Canon Envirothon in Missouri last
year in which they placed 6th.
The 13th Annual New Jersey Envirothon, a natural resources problem
solving competition for high school students, featured a record
43 teams of 215 students representing 17 counties. The event was
sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture's State Soil
Conservation Committee and the New Jersey Association of Conservation
Districts, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture's
Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rutgers Cooperative Research
and Extension, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
and the 15 state Soil Conservation Districts.
Cassaundra Abousamak, an 18 year old High Tech High School senior,
who was on both year's winning teams, said she has always cared
about the environment and joined the school's Environmental Club
in her sophomore year when they sent their first teams to the Envirothon.
"The Envirothon is an opportunity to learn about the environment
and compete against kids who also care about the environment,"
said Abousamak. "I also have learned about teamwork, cooperation
and relating to others and their strengths."
The other students on the winning High Tech High School team were
Kenglei Wang, Catherine Dowie, Daniel Barringer, and Rammy Salem.
The teams participated in six testing stations: soil, forestry,
wildlife, aquatics, current issues and team presentations. Several
days before the Envirothon, they were given this year's topic, "Water
Stewardship in a Changing Climate," for which they had to prepare
a team presentation. For each station, the students were tested
through hands-on interactive problem-solving activities and written
tests of their knowledge of the subject.
Though very active in Agricultural Education and FFA -- a student
organization of agricultural students -- Allentown High School in
Monmouth County was attending the Envirothon for the first time
Erin Noble, an Allentown FFA advisor and natural science and nursery
and landscape teacher, said, upon the urging of Department of Agriculture
staff, she decided to gather a group of her students to compete
in the Envirothon.
"A lot of the information is aligned with our current curriculum,"
said Noble. "After competing in the FFA environmental science
contest in April and coming in third in the state, I felt the kids
were prepared for the Envirothon."
One of Noble's students, Daniel Finn, a senior at Allentown High
School, said he feels competing in the Envirothon will help him
when he studies botany in college next year.
"What we learned here is a great head start for what I will
be studying in college," said Finn. "The Envirothon is
a rare opportunity that you can only get at certain schools. Plus,
it's fun to be in."
Conservation education is part of the New Jersey Department of
Agriculture's program to sustain agriculture in the future.
"The Envirothon is an opportunity to teach teenagers about
the importance of preserving New Jersey's natural resources,"
said New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Charles M. Kuperus. "They
can learn that by working together, they can accomplish great things
and help ensure the health of the environment for future generations."
During the competition, students identified tree species, wildlife
by pelts and skulls, and fish and aquatic insects, determined soil
textures and climbed in soil pits to identify soil horizons.
New state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa
P. Jackson attended the Envirothon for the first time and told the
students that coming from New Orleans, where her mother lost the
house she grew up in during Hurricane Katrina last year, has given
her a unique understanding of the importance of natural resources.
"Water, how much of it and it's quality, is vital to life
in New Jersey," said Jackson. "We are fighting to protect
the quality of our water, but we need the help of our citizenry
and you are our citizenry. You might be future Environmental Protection
Awards in the Envirothon included $1,000 college scholarships for
the first-place team, as well as scholarships to Montclair State
University and Richard Stockton State College, if the students attend
those colleges. High Tech High School's team will now advance to
the Canon Envirothon competition to be held July 23-29 at the University
of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
"The Envirothon is the single most important component of
conservation education," said Ken Marsh, President of the New
Jersey Association of Conservation Districts, a primary sponsor
of the Envirothon. "These students will be the next generation
to protect the environment. The hope is that they will bring back
what they learned here to their friends and families."